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Cash For Votes

'Cover-Up Operation'

'Electability and criminality operate in different spheres'

'Cover-Up Operation'
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Short-duration discussion in Rajya Sabha on issues arising out of statement made by Prime Minister on 18th March, 2011 on a newspaper report on payment of Cash-For-Votes

Excerpts from the leader of opposition's speech:

***

Sir, I am extremely grateful to you for permitting me to initiate a discussion under rule 176 on all issues arising out of the Statement of the hon. Prime Minister made in this House on 18th March, 2011. The Statement was, Sir, in the context of the publication of reports in relation to the cash-for-votes issue and a subsequent report that had appeared quoting a cable sent by a U.S. diplomat to his Government. Sir, this issue has been brought to the centre stage by the issuance of this cable and its publication. The larger issue, if you look at it, squarely is an issue of political corruption. It is squarely an issue where the lifeline of the Indian democracy and Indian parliamentary democracy is accountability, its majority in the Lok Sabha, and it is on the strength of that majority that the Government of the day gets its mandate to rule the country.

If somehow the process of procurement of that majority is subverted, then we hit at the very root of the Indian democracy. I regret to say, Sir, in recent years, in recent memorable history, this has not happened once but it has happened twice. Therefore, this issue can neither be under-estimated nor understated. On both cases we saw, the 1993 episode and the 2008 episode, that the Government of the day did not have a majority in the House. Therefore, we had a situation where bribes and inducements were offered to the MPs to cross floor. In support of that, it was not only mere allegations, it was hard evidence, extremely hard evidence which was sustainable in any court of law. Yet, we spent years and years by some process trying to subvert that hard evidence so that the truth itself could be concealed.

Sir, some people referred to 22nd July, 2008 as a sad day for the Indian democracy. Their reasons of sadness I do not share. Their reason was that money was displayed in one of the Houses of Parliament. Sir, if bribe moneys are displayed and an exposure takes place, it should really hurt the conscience of each one of us sitting here. So, I reiterate, Sir, that it was a sad day not because moneys were displayed, it was a sad day for the Indian democracy because moneys were being paid to MPs in order to convert a minority into a majority. Sir, the hon. Prime Minister in his Statement on 18th March has given his reaction to both the WikiLeaks cable as also the incident. It is his reaction to the entire set of events unfolding from that. I must confess that his reaction has disappointed us. Sir, is it on the Government’s agenda, is it on the Government's priority that corruption should be uprooted from the system? Sir, are we losing our touch with the common man who at every stage, when he is getting an opportunity in this country, is talking in terms of corruption?

And one of the biggest problems he refers to is how corruption can be uprooted from the system. It is popularly believed, Sir, that corruption will follow Newton’s gravitational laws. It does not spread at the grassroots. It starts from the top, and then starts moving downwards. If the top decides to correct itself, I have not the least doubt that then we can act as role models, as far as rest of the society is concerned. Therefore, the very essence of political corruption in this country has to be addressed. Sir, do we have in this House the honesty, at least, today, two-and-a-half years after this incident, to state and confess that what had happened was a gross impropriety? Unless we come to that conclusion, we will never be able to uproot this evil. What we have seen in the last two-and-a-half years, Sir, and this is not new to this country that you will have one-by-one efforts being made to cover up this truth. And, when I address the hon. House, through you, Sir, I will refer to each one of them. 

The hon. Prime Minister has said that the Cable is unverified and unverifiable. Sir, it is a fact that before the WikiLeaks Cables started appearing in the media globally, the United States Government had cautioned every relevant State and every relevant nation that the entire storehouse of their diplomatic communications had been broken into and, therefore, these were likely to surface and the publication could create an embarrassment world over. It is not that somebody domestically in India has fabricated a document. If the Government of India wants to verify, and if you have the honesty of purpose wanting to verify, these are verifiable because some of the contents of this and the evidence emanating out of this is a very strong corroborative evidence in a criminal case between a bribe-giver and a bribe-taker. You have agreements with several countries, including the United States for legal cooperation. It is on the strength of those that we go and ask foreign States that even if crime is committed in my territory and the evidence is available either in your territory or for a person in your territory then on the strength of this legal cooperation, please make this evidence available to us. We have legal systems in place. The world is not an uncivilized place any more. You do not escape from the crime merely because you have crossed the geographical boundaries of the State or a witness has crossed over. There are methods of getting that statement verified. We don’t try anyone of those efforts. On the contrary, we say, ‘these are unverified and unverifiable’. But before I come to this Cable, Sir, let us, first of all, relate back to July, 2008, and try and recollect what really is the truth. The contents of this Cable and the evidence which emanates out of it, I concede, is corroborative. It merely has to corroborate the principal evidence which is already there and available in India. The Left Front parties, in July, 2008, had withdrawn support. After the support had been withdrawn, UPA-I was now a minority Government. This minority now had to be converted into a majority.

A twofold strategy is adopted for that purpose. Sir, I would like, as far as possible, to refrain from taking names so that you do not have to correct me if I fall into the error of doing that. So, the first part of the strategy is, there is a case, rightly or wrongly, let me assume for the present purposes, wrongly, pending of a case against a senior leader of a political party. In July 2008, the approach of the CBI changes, the affidavit of the CBI changes. Therefore, the opposition of that political party because of this act of courtesy that you extend to its leader also changes and they decided now that instead of opposing this Government, they will support this Government. So, the first gap between majority and minority in July 2008 when the Left withdrew support is made up by the change of stance of this political party. It is a political development. Even if I want to complain I can make a grievance politically but I cannot go beyond that. But you are still short of numbers. How is this shortage of number now to be covered up? The hard reality and the hard truth is that this shortage is now covered up by a retail purchase of parliamentarians. ..

The first task is, to identify the vulnerable. That is the first task which is done. Delimitation had taken place, some constituencies had changed characters, some had disappeared, some reserved had become unreserved, unreserved had become reserved, there were some not likely to get nominated in the 2009 elections by their parties. So, across the board, look at various political parties and identify the targets. After you identify the targets, then, obviously, those who are in the game of hunting, for those who were willing to oblige are let loose. And from what transpires thereafter it is absolutely clear that you used the inducement of money, maybe, some other inducements. Sir, we live in a country where the Father of the Nation had a huge emphasis as far as the purity of means is concerned. The target was not that I must get a majority come what may, the target...

The Government and all those who support this position of what happened have to ask themselves just two questions. The first question is: why did the political party which support you for the limited purpose during the debate and that vote and not thereafter, why did it support you? Is it not a fact that a large number of individual MPs belonging to political parties decided to cross vote for the purposes of this vote? Members of Parliament, Sir, were complaining in and out of the House, in the Central Hall, elsewhere in this building that approaches are being made to them. They were complaining that they were being approached with large offers.

Much is being made out of the three MPs who decided to act at great personal risk as whistle blowers. Now, three of them who were offered, decided to stand out. They refused to succumb to those temptations. Whoever was approaching them, they led him up the garden path and then came and made an exposure of what actually was happening. Today, I find, Sir, as part of this whole cover up operation, those who are friendly to this methodology of procurement of the majority or this entire process of exposing this were banished by the political party and its leaders to which these three MPs belonged. Obviously, these three MPs deserve to be complimented because these three MPs were the ones who stood out and said, ‘we refuse the offer.’ If these three MPs inform their political colleagues, if these three MPs get in touch with some investigative journalist, that is very improper because those who were being offered bribes decided to act as whistle blowers and expose it and because these three did it, therefore, treat this entire operation as tainted. This is the entire argument being given. 

And what is the material? Sir, I am not going to place it in detail because this is not the forum to do it. You have a material only in one test case. There were dozens of such cases which were taking place because dozens of people had in fact cross voted. And in one case which gets exposed, what is the material? One representative goes to these three MPs, makes an offer of cross voting, recorded on camera. These MPs drive down to another gentleman’s house. Somebody on their behalf comes up to their house again recorded on camera with actual catch. The conversations are recorded on camera. The delivery of money is recorded on camera. Sir, circumstances never lie. When the money is being delivered, the first question will be: who is this man who has come to deliver the money? Check up his credentials. Your entire Parliamentary Committee Report at page 373 and 374 gives these credentials. A letter of introduction for this courier of money, for some other purpose given by the people on whose behalf he came, is before the Committee. So and so is my Secretary or political secretary. It is a signed document and do we expect that this kind of a evidence which shows the relationship between those who are acting on behalf of the bribe givers and the courier of money should be disbelieved and that this entire incident was being enacted? There are signed documents. Forget the camera, forget the video recordings. Cameras don’t lie so easily. There are signed documents by both the persons on whose behalf he came as also the courier who came with their signatures giving their identities and relationships which are before this Committee. When he delivers the money he asks these MPs, ‘Please speak to my master.’ The phone calls are recorded. The telecom records show from which number to which number at that time the calls were made. All this was not being engineered. 

With this kind of overwhelming evidence, there are, Sir, records, the telecom records, the records of activities, letters of introduction, these are almost like documentary confessions which give you the identity of the courier who came to deliver the money. And then we are being told, ‘let’s over-look this, maybe the sting operation was managed by somebody.’ This, Sir, was a whistle blowing operation. I saw an argument being addressed yesterday in one of our electronic media. How did the Members of the Party to which I belong know in advance that the sting operation is being conducted? The answer is very simple. My MPs were being approached. My MPs, therefore, were complaining and if my MPs therefore, inform a media organization and my MPs inform the party, that is the logical course of conduct. What is wrong in that? What is the conspiratorial in them? The victims are complaining to the media, the victims are complaining to their own parties that this is being done. This was the logical course of normal human conduct and with this kind of an overwhelming evidence you have a situation where then, the evidence which is presented. So, you have the couriers, the negotiators, the telephone talks, the video recordings, the documentary evidences. 

Forget oral evidences, men may lie. All these facts don’t lie. And then, what do they do? In order to create the shamest [?lamest? most shameful?] defence of them all, put up a fake defence that somebody came to my party’s office -- the courier -- and from there he took the money and therefore, this was a made up exercise. Sir, there is a huge difference between truth and falsehood. Falsehood falls apart, truth holds together. So, this was the evidence presented to the Parliamentary Committee. Now, little did they realize that one of the MPs -- I regret, Sir, I will have to name the MP because I am not casting an aspersion on him -- Mr. Argal, they showed these couriers surreptitiously going into his house and said he was sent by the BJP. Little did they realize that when they sent him in, that camera unfortunately recorded the hoarding outside his house. And, the hoarding outside his house was congratulating Mr. Argla for exposing the cash-for-vote scam. It was, obviously, recorded after the cash-for-vote had taken place. Lying, fabricating evidence, and all such things were happening in broad day light, and we are, now, being told that this operation by the channel should be disbelieved. 

In the face of this, what has happened? The country is asking a question, a very legitimate question. In 1993, moneys were taken and, in fact, deposited in a bank account. The trail was left behind. And, a judgement -- in my respectful opinion, at some stage, should be re-looked at – diluted the gravity of that offence. There is a strong opinion that the judgement is erroneous. But it is a judgement, nonetheless. Therefore, the gravity of an offence against Indian democracy was diluted. This time around the evidence was so strong that even the 1993 judgement, the subsequent judgement, may not come to their rescue because the offence of bribery had taken place outside the House. You, now, had a situation where you, again, for the last two to two-and-a-half years, have been attempting to cover all this. We had a Parliamentary Committee. The statement of hon. Prime Minister is in two parts. In the first part, the hon. Prime Minister says, “The allegations of bribery were investigated by a Committee, constituted by the Fourteenth Lok Sabha. The Committee had concluded that there were insufficient evidences to draw any conclusion of bribery”. So, now, we are being told that the Committee said there was not sufficient evidence of bribery. 

Subsequently, the Prime Minister says, “From my party and the Government, nobody was involved.” Let us test it, Sir. Criminality is ordinarily determined by investigators and courts. It is not determined by parliamentary majorities. Parliament can only investigate what happens within the precincts of the House, and in relation to its Members. The Committee, therefore, should never have been, in a case of this kind, divided. But, regrettably, it was. Three Members took a view, which is, probably, closer to the view that I hold. But, let me ignore that view for the moment. What did the other four who supported the Government – all of us supported the Government in that vote – said? Did they say that they were closing that case for want of evidence, and bribery was not made out? I will just read out two-three paragraphs, in total about 8-10 sentences, from page No. 47 the Committee’s report, fourth paragraph, 

“Takingthe statement, made by Shri Singh before the Committee at face value, the talk of money in the context of Shri Argal joining the Samajwadi Party, the Committee feels that a person of Shri Singh’s eminence and standing should not have involved in such a shenanigans”. 

The four UPA-supporting Members are saying this. 

“Besides, the critical juncture, at which the conversation took place, the very thrust of the conversation has a tendency to raise doubts about the conduct of Shri Singh vis-à-vis his endeavours to facilitate defection of Members to his party in violation of the provisions of the Tenth Schedule.” 

They, now, come to the gentlemen who received the courier. His name was Mr. Saxena. 

“TheCommittee has already commented upon the convincing nature of Shri Saxena’s testimony before the Committee. Shri Saxena might not be telling the truth when he said that he is no longer in appointment of Shri Singh. He might also not be telling the truth.” 

So, they doubt the veracity of everything that he says. 

“As regards Shri Sanjeev Saxena, the Committee is also constrained to observe that there are many loopholes in his testimony. He conceded having given money to the three Members on 22nd August, 2008 at the residence of Shri Argal....” 

It should actually be July as he could not have denied the veracity of the tapes provided by the CNN-IBN showing him deliver the money. 

The clarification sought to be provided by him in this regard are not convincing at all.”

Now, Sir, please read the statement in contradistinction to what the hon. Prime Minister has said. I reiterate, the Prime Minister’s Statement is: 

“ The Committee had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion of bribery.” Now, what does the Committee say? It says, “Shri Saxena was a bribe giver, wittingly or unwittingly. He, therefore, does not enjoy immunity under article 105(2) of the Constitution. He did not know whether 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.-- Now, this is where the Committee starts doubting. They hold him to be a bribe giver, and, then, say, --“why did he come?” Did he come at the behest of ‘A’, ‘B’ or did he come from the Ashoka Road BJP Office? 

That video, shot days after the event, showed a hoarding congratulating Mr. Argal for blowing the cash- for- votes scam. They go through all these possibilities and say, “therefore his role in the matter needs to be investigated further.” And, in the final recommendations – this is the conclusion– it says, “Saxena plus Hindustani, plus Kulkarni—their role should be referred to an investigating agency for further investigation. Now, Sir, what has the Committee said? It said, three Members, dissenting, have said, “A larger case of bribery is made out.” The majority of four says, “One of them was indulging in the shenanigans, talking of money, inducing people to defect.” Talking of money and inducing them to defect and here we say that there is insufficient evidence of bribery. The other one, they say, does not even have the privilege of article 105 (2). His testimony does not inspire confidence; he is making unconvincing statements. He is a bribe giver, wittingly or unwittingly. At whose behest? Let the Police investigate. In the face of this, how can the hon. Prime Minister-- with utmost personal respect and regard for him, I would say-- tell this House that the Committee had concluded that there was an insufficient evidence of bribery. Quite to the contrary, Sir, the Committee had said, “That one was talking of money, indulging in shenanigans; the other was, wittingly or unwittingly, a bribe giver. At whose behest? It needs to be investigated.” This is what the House should have been told. What does now the Wikileaks say, Sir?

Jayanthi Natarajan: Sir, I have a point of explanation under rule239 if you permit me, Sir. The Leader of the Opposition has yielded. Since the Leader of the Opposition is on this subject, the latest news which has now come out on all news channels, on this very issue, is that the entire matter of cash-for votes.... Sir, this is rule 239. I am seeking an explanation, with your permission. Sir, through you, I am seeking an explanation, whether the hon. Leader of the Opposition is aware that the latest news regarding the cash-for-votes issue is that the entire thing was a sting operation, mounted by his party and these are recordings which were never given to the Committee. ..(Interruptions).. This is exposed by Tehelka. Is he aware of it?  Sir, let him explain. Tehelka has put it out just now. ...

Sir, I am extremely grateful to my hon. friend for raising this point of order for clarification. Sir, I am quite conscious of the fact that the Government is in a very serious difficulty on this. And, not only is it in a serious difficulty over the manner in which it procured this majority ...Sir, at times, even Freudian slips are helpful. My learned friend has asked whether we are aware of it. I have not seen any such publication but now that you have raised it, I am quite conscious that investigators, friendly to the Congress Party, are at work to save it, and let me make that point good. Let me make that point good. In the middle of a debate, Sir, she raised it -- and I am not saying that they are interfering; India is a free country with free expression.

You are now addressing an argument. Please don’t look at the video recording which shows the negotiator negotiating money; don’t look at the courier carrying the money; don’t look at the telephone records or the identity of that courier; don't look at the persons who cross-voted; but because three Members of Parliament belonged to the BJP, they informed their Party leaders as to what is happening and they informed the media organization to please expose this. Therefore, the whole operation must be tainted and therefore the entire evidence must be seen to evaporate. Now, if Congress-friendly investigators in some journal or say some channel do it, let me tell you, the last organization which has the locus standi to question sting operations is the organization which has carried the latest sting on your behalf, because, ever since their birth, they have only carried sting operations. So, let them not therefore start justifying an argument that sting operations per se are questionable because somebody is a whistleblower and an information provider.

Sir, this was the deviation because I was invited into it bymy friend. Sir, I now come to the question of the WikiLeaks. What is its role? While we were looking at only one case and cases of MPs, you suddenly find a new set of dramatist personnel appearing. A cable per se may be no evidence but then there is a diplomat. We have to see the content of what he writes, and there are enough provisions in our law and in our legal assistance treaties with the United States where this is good evidence.

He says, “I saw the rogue war-chest. It was shown to me. The money is being stacked up.” That is the evidence. “I saw the conspirator who told me, ‘we intend to pay to X, Y and Z’.” That is evidence. Those conspirators confessed to him when the conspiracy was on, not years later. That is evidence. And, therefore, treat this as corroborative evidence to this larger conspiracy which was on at that time. And you will find, Sir, that this is a case which must be taken to its logical conclusion; even the larger question which my friend has raised that bribe-giving must be pardoned because the victims of bribe-giving were the complainants and the complainants are not good people, at least, people whom they don’t politically agree with. Sir, the second link of the Prime Minister’s statement, which is a very important link, relates to the facts where the hon. Prime Minister says – I am just referring to two sentences out of that whole statement – “How did the people respond to these allegations?” In the General Elections, the Opposition parties repeated the allegations of bribery in the trust vote. He said, ‘How did the people respond?’ And then, the hon. Prime Minister says that this is the voting pattern and this voting pattern indicates that the people exonerated us.

Sir, it is a very serious question of public morality, or a question adverse to public morality, which the hon. Prime Minister has raised. The question is, does electability or populism condone criminality? Because of the fact that you are elected by the people, must the due process of law come to an end? Bribegiving is an offence; bribe-taking is an offence. If the Prime Minister is right, then logically, the converse of what he says must also be true. If people had rejected him, would the offences stand proved without going through a due process? The 1989 elections were contested only on the issue of Bofors. People had rejected the then government. Can we say that it indicted everybody individually who had lost in the elections? Obviously, these operate in different spheres; electability and criminality operate in different spheres. If we start rationalizing this argument, every mafia or criminal who gets elected will say, ‘I have been supported by and exonerated by the court of the people, and therefore, the case against me should now logically disappear” Sir, I take this opportunity to raise a larger issue. We have been concerned and the country expects to know from us why people with dubious records enter legislative bodies and why we don’t bring legislative and constitutional changes in this regard. We have been debating this. We have still been unable to provide a legal mechanism by which we can ensure this. Or, the best we say is, the parties will try not to put up such candidates. We have not worked out as to how this can be done. If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, it will provide rationality to something which is improper and immoral. I only hope when the hon. Prime Minister today addresses us, he retracts from the position as it appeared from his original statement.

Sir, finally, all I can say is, we went through a process where a majority was procured in this manner. Today, we are in a situation where we have to confess at least one thing that there is a strange and unparalleled power that truth has. Truth not only has the power, but also has a tenacity that it keeps knocking till such time that it vindicates itself. What happened in 2008 was a fraud on India's democracy, the manner in which the Vote of Confidence was procured through cross-over of MPs who were induced by this pattern. And each such reminder, like the publication of the WikiLeaks cable, is only reminding us, who are all managers of Indian democracy sitting in these Houses, that the country is expecting us to come out in much better glory than in which they see us today. I hope, Sir, we take this opportunity and respond accordingly.

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