India

Pranab Asks Opposition to Move Court on Wikileaks Exposure

Agencies

New Delhi: The ‘cash-for-votes’ controversy dating back to a no-trust vote against UPA-1 in July 2008 has returned to haunt UPA-2, with fresh WikiLeaks logs suggesting a staffer at the US Embassy in the capital was shown cash meant to bribe MPs.

With the PM under fire from both BJP and Left, Congress mounted a strong defence, questioning the credibility of the US cables. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee even insisted that events of the 14th Lok Sabha could not be taken up when the 15th Lok Sabha was in session.

But Mukherjee’s argument that the author of the cables had diplomatic immunity and it is not possible for the government to either “confirm it or deny it” did not cut ice with a determined opposition which reiterated that both Houses were unlikely to function on Friday unless the prime minister himself made a statement.

The cables quoted an aide of Congress MP and Gandhi family loyalist Satish Sharma who reportedly showed cash contained in chests at the MP’s residence to an embassy staffer on July 16, 2008. Sharma separately claimed, according to the cables, that efforts were made to influence the Shiromani Akali Dal through US-based businessman Sant Singh Chatwal while Rahul Gandhi was working on the National Conference through Omar Abdullah. The MP even said he was trying to create a divide in BJP through former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.

The reports came as much-needed succour to a Left struggling ahead of assembly elections in Kerala and West Bengal and CPM was quick to claim that its charge that Congress-led UPA worked to serve US interests was well-founded. BJP said its belief that UPA-1 won the 2008 vote through bribes had been substantiated.

In Rajya Sabha, an angry Mukherjee challenged the protesting BJP and Left benches to move court. He said US officials who wrote the report could not be probed on account of diplomatic immunity. Besides, every Lok Sabha is sovereign in its period, he said, stirring tempers further.

In Lok Sabha, fuses ran short as well with Congress benches barracking the opposition although the ruling party was sparsely represented in the afternoon.

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