India

Cash-for-Votes Controversy: Sushma Says Nothing Wrong in Planning Sting

BeyondHeadlines News Desk

New Delhi:  Taking firm stand on the allegation that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) planned a sting to prove that the Congress party was willing to buy MPs to survive a trust vote in 2008, Sushma Swaraj, senior BJP leader and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha (lower house), has said that if the BJP did so, “there is nothing wrong with that.” However, she said that it is incorrect that her party’s leaders or members are guilty of entrapment and that the party is open to an investigation of its role in what is known as the “cash-for-votes” controversy. Swaraj today made these statement in an interview with NDTV. He said that she stands by her demand for a CBI inquiry into the cash-for-votes allegation. Her own party’s role, she said, can and should be scrutinized too because “we know the truth will come out even if they inquire that.”

In July 2008, hours ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trust vote, three BJP MPs arrived in Parliament waving notes that they said amounted to three crores. This, they allege, was money that the Congress had offered to them via middlemen to vote in favour of the government.

Sushma Swaraj

The matter had disappeared from the political landscape till a WikiLeaks cable leaked last week kissed it back to life. The BJP was galvanized into action, and demanded that the Prime Minister explain a scam of which he was “the main beneficiary.”

The government’s defence lies in a parliamentary committee which investigated the cash-for-votes allegations. The government claims that the committee concluded there was no evidence of bribery. The BJP, on the other hand, points out that two members of that committee wanted further investigations. And the three MPs who were allegedly offered the three crores for their votes say that no serious attempt has been made by the police or other investigating agencies to question them.

The Opposition’s attack has lost some of its bite, however, because of a story that appeared in news magazine Tehelka this week. The story alleges that the BJP’s senior leadership had sanctioned the sting and that the BJP had deputed their MPs to find buyers to shame the government. Swaraj described the Tehelka piece “as a blatant lie.” She did not, however, deny that senior BJP leaders co-opted a TV channel to conduct a sting that would prove the government’s desperation to win its trust vote.

“Our party MPs come and complain to us… they say we are being approached…they say we are being given money…and then somebody from the party says okay, get some media-persons and ask them to take it on the camera…so that we can prove it with photographs…that this is what’s being done…what is wrong in this? There is nothing wrong with it…it was only an expose…whatever the ruling party was doing…this was a way of exposing it….what is wrong with it?”

The cash-for-votes controversy, and the new revelations about the BJP’s questionable role in orchestrating a sting, formed part of a fiery debate in Parliament on Wednesday. Swaraj’s single point-of-attack was the Prime Minister.  She said the country is tired of the Prime Minister citing excuses to let himself off the hook in a series of recent corruption scandals that have shaken his government, including the cash-for-votes scandal, where he said he was not aware of any malpractice within his party. “I concluded my speech with a couplet,” she said today, “and that couplet was very combative…it means you are accountable…don’t be wishy-washy…the question is of your leadership.”  (The verse she cited – “Tu idhar udhar ki na baat kar, yeh bata ki qaafila kyon loota; hamein rahzanon se gila nahin, teri rehbari ka sawaal hai. (Don’t talk hearsay, tell us why the caravan was looted; we have no grouse against dacoits but it is a question of your leadership).”

In response, Dr Singh cited an Urdu couplet too, albeit a much gentler one; Swaraj says his grace made her smile. “His was not combative…that is the beauty of it…it had humour and it was a sort of pleading – ‘I admit I am not worthy of your sight…but note my patience and passion.’  I found it charming…I did smile. It cooled the tempers,” she said  (The Prime Minister said:   “Maana ki teri deed ke qaabil nahin hoon main; tu mera shouq toh dekh, mera intezaar toh dekh – I understand that I am not worthy of your gaze; but look at my keenness, my patience for you).” (Watch)

It was a similar confrontation with the prime minister a few weeks ago that had placed Swaraj bang at the center of another controversy. In Jammu on an official trip, the Prime Minister said that he accepted full responsibility for appointing PJ Thomas as the country’s Chief Vigilance Commissioner – an appointment that was declared invalid by the Supreme Court largely because of a pending corruption case against Thomas. Dr Manmohan Singh selected Thomas in September, over-ruling the objections of Swaraj, who was a member of the selection committee. Thomas’ posting turned into political warfare between the government and the Opposition. But when the prime minister made his statement in Jammu, Swaraj tweeted that the matter should be laid to rest. The rest of her party, however, led by the president, Nitin Gadkari, disagreed, and said the prime minister would be asked to explain in Parliament his reasons for insisting on Thomas’ candidacy.

Discussing the alleged divide between her party and her own opinion, Swaraj said, “My response is always based on issues. On that case (after the Jammu statement), I felt the matter should rest. I genuinely felt that. But I was over-ruled by my president. I admit that…so there is no question of divergent views. He said it in so many words at a press conference…I did not feel snubbed…I was not snubbed…I was over-ruled.”

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