New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day Thursday as a vociferous opposition demanded the government`s resignation after leaked US diplomatic cables alleged payoffs during the 2008 trust vote in Parliament.
The opposition protests forced four adjournments of the house, the final one at 3 p.m.
As the house met at 2 p.m. after two adjournments in the morning, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members shouted slogans demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speak on the issue. When their demand was not met, the opposition members trooped near the chairman`s podium and started shouting slogans against the government.
This was countered by members from the ruling benches, who made cross allegations against the BJP. However, the BJP continued its protest and started shouting slogans against Congress President Sonia Gandhi. This angered the ruling party members who also trooped near the chairman`s podium, resulting in a war of words between the members from the two parties. The chair`s attempts to take up the discussion on the working of the tribal affairs ministry were futile as the opposition members refused to listen to his repeated pleas.
Amidst the din, the house was adjourned till 3 p.m.
The protests continued when the house re-assembled, and Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan called for the discussion on the working of the tribal affairs ministry. With his repeated pleas for calm ignored, Khan adjourned the house for the day.
Earlier, making a statement on the issue at 12 noon, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government could neither confirm nor deny the alleged revelations from leaked US diplomatic cables of payoffs to MPs to secure their votes during the 2008 confidence vote.
The opposition has been demanding the resignation of the Manmohan Singh-led government following the disclosures on WikiLeaks published by The Hindu newspaper. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a statement that the cables between the US government and its missions abroad were inaccessible for the government of India and no comments could be made.
"There is a diplomatic immunity to what a sovereign nation discusses with its mission abroad, no access can be made to them, government cannot confirm or deny it," Mukherjee said in the Rajya Sabha as the house reassembled at 12 noon after its first adjournment.
He also said the 15th Lok Sabha was not accountable for what happened in the 14th Lok Sabha.
"Every Lok Sabha is sovereign in its period; whatever happened in 14th Lok Sabha, cannot be dragged in 15th Lok Sabha. The 14th Lok Sabha has been dissolved," he said.
Mukherjee also said the revelations were not admissible evidence in any court of law.
The opposition, however, refused to be pacified and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley blamed the government for covering up the episode.
"Diplomatic immunity may be available to US diplomats, it can certainly not be claimed by government of India for a crime committed by Indians in India. That correspondence despite the immunity has already been published," Jaitley said.
"It is easy to say the house was sovereign, all these factors do not apply when offence of bribery are committed outside the House. You are guilty of cover up."
An angry Mukherjee challenged the opposition to take the matter to the court.
"(If) You have the courage, go to the court," he said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Sitaram Yechury said the enquiry should be handed over to competent agencies.
"There was a committee appointed, it recommended appropriate agency must investigate, what happened to that," he questioned.
The Wikileaks diplomatic cables published by The Hindu newspaper quoted a political aide of Congress leader Satish Sharma as saying that a Rs.50 crore fund had been formed to buy MPs for the confidence vote.
A US embassy official was apparently shown two chests of cash in the political aide`s house, kept for the payoffs.