The Wikileaks cable, sent by a US diplomat, to his government has brought to the centrestage the issue of political corruption, particularly in the matter of procuring a majority on July 22, 2008 in the ‘Vote of Confidence’ before the 14th Lok Sabha. 22nd July, 2008 was a sad day for Indian democracy. It was sad not because the bribe money was displayed on the floor of the House; it was sad because bribes were actually paid.The Prime Minister’s reaction, in the form of a statement, made on March 18, 2011 has disappointed me. Does this Government have a desire or even an agenda to admit the truth on questions of corruption? Is it willing to honestly confess that improprieties and misdemeanours had occurred in its pursuit of political objections?
The Prime Minister cannot run down the pursuit of truth by merely saying that the cable is unverified and unverifiable. The US government has cautioned the Indian government as also many other governments in the world about the leakage of its diplomatic documents and that the same were likely to throw up embarrassing material. Is it not possible for the government to merely ask its counterpart in the US to verify the existence of such a document? It is academic whether a Wikileak cable itself is primary evidence or not.
What is the truth?
The undeniable truth is that the Left had withdrawn support in July 2008. The UPA-I had been reduced to a minority. The UPA then went scouting for new partners. Regrettably, the Samajwadi Party was willing to support. There was a political cost involved. The political cost entailed alteration in the government stand in the affidavits in the case of disproportionate assets against a prominent leader of the Samajwadi Party. Once the Samajwadi Party agreed to support the government, the numerical deficit was reduced. The government had decided to cover up the deficit through a retail purchase of Parliamentarians. Targets were identified, hunters were let loose, cash and bribery were the obvious inducements.
The ‘Father of the Nation’ Gandhi-ji had always laid emphasis on the purity of the means. Let this government and its head, the Hon’ble Prime Minister ask himself two questions. 1. Is it not a fact that the change in the government’s stance in a corruption case led to the Samajwadi Party support the government? 2. Is it not a fact that a significant number of opposition MPs crossed floors and voted for the government? What was the inducement?
Members of Parliament were openly complaining that offers of large amount of payment were being made to them. Three of them decided to become whistleblowers. The act of inducement to cross vote on the strength of bribery was recorded by the camera when one MP visited three others with lucrative offers. The whistle blower MPs drove down to meet a leader of the bribe givers. Thereafter a representative of the bribe givers visited the MPs with a bag of cash. All this is recorded on camera. The MPs speak on phone to the bribe givers. The telephone records corroborate this.
It is a serious issue. There have been occasions in the past, where bribery had influenced the voting pattern, in a ‘vote of confidence’, in the Lok Sabha. The bribe givers and the bribe takers were prosecuted. They were saved by a judicial intervention, and in my opinion, wrongly so, since the Supreme Court judgment in the JMM case diluted the offence between a ‘bribe giver’ and ‘bribe taker’. Our conscience should have revolted and give us an opportunity to revisit that verdict. Unfortunately, history repeated itself in 2008. The Parliamentary Committee, which went into this issue, could have done greater justice to the truth. The minority opinion completely indicted the ‘bribe givers’. The majority opinion was somewhat milder. It skirted the main issue of some of the ‘bribe givers’, while upholding the charge against some others.
The excerpts from the Parliamentary Committee report are as under-
Taking the statement made by Shri Singh before the Committee at face value that the talk of money was in context of Shri Argal’s joining the Samajwadi Party the Committee still feel that a person of Shri Rewati Raman Singh’s eminence and standing should not have involved himself in such shenanigans.
Besides, the critical juncture at which this conversation took place and the vey thrust of the conversation has a tendency to raise doubts over the conduct of Shri Rewati Raman Singh vis-a-vis his endeavours to facilitate defection of the members to Samajwadi Party in violation of the provisions of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution.
The Committee have already commented upon the unconvincing nature of Shri Sanjeev Saxena’s testimony before the Committee. The question is: even if Shri Saxena is proved to be telling untruths, does the video tape and his evidence conclusively prove Shri Amar Singh;’s involvement? ……..
Shri Saxena might not be telling the truth when he said that he was no longer in employment of Shri Amar Singh; he might not be telling the truth when he said that the bag full of currency notes was thrust upon him and he was forced to carry it inside Shri Argal’s House, but are these untruths, if they be untruths, sufficient to prove that the bag was really coming from Shri Amar Singh and was, as contended, token money for voting in favour of Motion of Confidence?
As regards Shri Sanjeev Saxena, the Committee are also constrained to observe that there are many loopholes and loose ends in his testimony. He conceded having given the money to the said three members on 22 August 2008 [sic July 2008] at the residence of Shri Argal, as he could not have possibly denied the veracity of the tapes provided by CNN-IBN showing him delivering the money. The clarification sought to be given by him in this regard are not at all convincing to say the least.
Shri Saxena was a bribe giver wittingly or unwittingly. He, therefore, does not enjoy any immunity under Article 105(2) of the Constitution. Evidently, he did not know that the members were whistle blowers. Hence, he could very well be giving bribe with a view to influencing the members in their parliamentary conduct. Several posers have come up before the Committee … on whose behest Shri Saxena was operating; if it was on behalf of Shri Amar Singh, as alleged – why did he go to BJP office at Ashoka Road – from where the bag of money is stated to have been loaded into his car. Was Saxena hijacked and coerced into completing an operation that had been aborted for a consideration?
[Ref: Para 141 (xiv)]
Therefore his role in the matter needs to be investigated further.
…………. ……. ………..
………… ……. ………..
The Committee after taking into account their findings and conclusions in the matter [as detailed in para 141 particularly at (xiv) to (xvii) relating to the roles of Shri Sanjeev Saxena, Shri Suhail Hindustani and Shri Sudheendra Kulkarni], recommend that this matter may be probed further by an appropriate agency.” (Close)
In the face of all these facts, I can say that I am saddened by the comments of the Prime Minister. The government cannot put blinkers on its eyes, and say “The allegation of bribery were investigated by a Committee constituted by the 14th Lok Sabha. The Committee had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion of bribery”.
Quite to the contrary, the majority had upheld the case of bribery; it has directed further investigation by an investigative agency. It is learnt that the Delhi Police has upheld the veracity of the video recordings. Why should the Prime Minister have been in a hurry and bent backwards to wipe out the criminality of the bribe givers?
The Wikileaks evidence
The content of the Wikileaks has corroborated the pre-existing evidence. The Diplomat who was quoted in the Wikileaks is himself a witness to a rouge war-chest, where he saw the money meant for bribery, which was stashed up. He was a witness because he saw some of the conspirators in action. He is witness because, during the execution of the conspiracy, to bribe some conspirators had made admissions to him with regard to their intentions to bribe MPs and political parties.
What happened in the MPs bribery case of 1993, reoccurred in 2008. Even some of the dramatis personae were the same.
Does the 2009 election wipe out the criminality?
The PM has said in his statement “In the General Elections, the Opposition parties repeated the allegation of bribery. How did the people respond to this allegations”. The PM then quotes statistics of the UPA victory in order to justify his position that the election results of 2009 rejected the Opposition’s charge.
Bribe giving and bribe taking constitute a criminal act. Both these criminal actions occurred outside the Parliament. Only the voting took place within the house. Does the criminality get extinguished because of electoral wins? If this is true then is the converse also true that a defeat in an election confirms the guilt and culpability. In that event were the Prime Minister right in his argument logically that the rejection of the Congress Party in 1989 was an acknowledgement of guilt of its leadership since the election was fought on the issue of corruption.
Sir, there is a huge popular concern about criminalization of politics. There is a public revulsion against culprits entering legislative bodies. The nation expects us to devise a legislative and constitutional mechanism to prevent such people from entering the legislatures. Till such time that we are able to do that we are expected to exclude them from our parties’ list of candidates.
Electability and criminality operate in different fields. Populism does not wipe out criminality. My fear is that every person with a criminal track record will justify his election is a rejection of the charge of culpability against him. The Prime Minister has rationalized this. I only hope in his response he retracts from it completely.
There is only one silver lining in this controversy. It relates to the power of truth. You won a vote of confidence through dubious means. You covered up the offence but the truth has a tenacity that it keeps re-emerging till it vindicates itself. The Wikileaks cable has done precisely that. It has corroborated what this Parliament saw when monies were displayed. It has corroborated what television viewers saw when monies were being paid. It has corroborated the voting figure which was displayed on the Lok Sabha screen where retail purchase of MPs led to a dubious success of a Vote of Confidence. History will record in black letters that vote of confidence and certainly not bestow glory on those who justify it.