New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday went on the front-foot to bat for his party against allegations that MPs had been bribed to win the 2008 parliamentary trust vote and addressed different forums to deny any wrongdoing as stated in the "unverified and unverifiable" WikiLeaks cables.
Putting up a stout defence for his government, the usually reticent prime minister spoke at the India Today Conclave and then made identical statements in the two houses of parliament.
"I wish to make it clear that no one from the Congress party or the government indulged in any unlawful act during the trust vote during July, 2008," he said in the Lok Sabha, a day after the opposition demanded his immediate resignation over the alleged 2008 cash-for-votes scam that resurfaced with a newspaper publishing the WikiLeaks cables.
"The government rejects that allegation absolutely and firmly," he said, adding: "It is unfortunate that the opposition continues to raise old charges that have been debated, discussed and rejected by the people of India."
The prime minister later read out the same statement in the Rajya Sabha. But the opposition was far from satisfied and both houses had to be adjourned over the clamour for clarifications on the statement.
Hitting out at the opposition for giving "dignity" to an "unverified communication", he referred to Congress victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and said: "Upon the conclusion of the term of the 14th Lok Sabha, there was a general election. In that general election, the opposition parties repeated their allegations of bribery in the trust vote."
"How did the people respond to those allegations? The principal opposition party (the Bharatiya Janata Party) which had 138 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha was reduced to 116 seats in the 15th Lok Sabha.
"The Left parties found that their tally was reduced from 59 to 24. It is the Congress Party alone which increased its tally from 145 to 206, an increase of 61 seats."
The government, he added forcefully, could not "confirm the veracity, contents or even the existence of such communications".
Congress MPs thumped their tables as the prime minister took it upon himself to deny the charges on WikiLeaks that purportedly say that payoffs had been made to MPs to ensure a majority for the Congress-led government in the confidence vote following differences over the India-US nuclear deal in 2008.
As per the cables, a US diplomat was told Rs.50-60 crore was kept aside by the Congress party to get some opposition members of the Lok Sabha on board before the trust vote in July 2008 during the first tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
The prime minister first broke his silence on the cables at the India Today Conclave in the morning.
"I have no knowledge of any such purchases. I am absolutely categorical, I have not authorised anyone to purchase any votes. I am not aware of any act of purchase of votes," he said during the brief question-answer session.
"I am absolutely certain in asserting that I am not at all, I think, involved in any of these transactions."
The opposition was unconvinced and said it would go ahead with a privilege motion against the prime minister.
"We will move privilege motions against the PM in both the houses of parliament. He has given a new definition for the criminal jurisprudence by claiming that since the UPA government came back to power, it should not be tried for the crimes committed before that," Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said at a joint press conference at which her Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley was also present.
"The prime minister was the primary beneficiary of the (2008) bribery so he is equally blameworthy, Jaitley said.
"It is not my case that the prime minister is economical with the truth but is at variance with the truth," he added.