PM says no knowledge of vote buying

NEW DELHI Fri Mar 18, 2011 1:07pm IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seen at a summit in New Delhi February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seen at a summit in New Delhi February 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday he had no knowledge of vote buying to win a confidence vote in 2008 and doubted the veracity of the claims, a day after defying resignation calls over the issue.

The scandal over cash for votes is unlikely to immediately endanger Singh's government, but it increases the pressure on Singh already battling allegations of graft in cases ranging from grant of telecom licenses to apartments for war widows.

The opposition forced parliament to adjourn for a second day on Friday, demanding Singh resign after a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks said his ruling Congress party paid bribes to win the confidence vote in parliament.

"I am not aware about any acts of purchasing votes so I am absolutely certain in asserting that I am not at all involved in any of these transactions," Singh told a conference.

"I have not authorised anyone to purchase any votes."

Newspaper editorials said the report was unlikely to affect government stability as the charges were old.

But with Singh's reputation as an honest elder statesman tarnished, the political space for reforms such as opening up the supermarket sector to foreign investors and the deregulation of diesel prices will further shrink, analysts said.

The U.S. diplomatic cable said a senior Congress party official told an embassy official that four lawmakers of a regional party had been paid 100 million rupees ($2.2 million) each to secure their support in the vote, which Singh won.

A spokeswoman of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi said they did not comment on classified material and could not comment on the report's authenticity.

The Congress party has been hit by a series of corruption scandals, chiefly a $39 billion telecoms scam in which mobile phone licenses were sold at rock bottom prices. The telecommunications minister A. Raja has been sacked and is in prison facing charges.

The government is also battling a loans-for-bribes bank scandal and allegations that apartments meant for war widows were diverted to bureaucrats.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party which has stepped up pressure on the coalition said Singh had lost the moral responsibility to govern following the latest revelations.

(Writing by Manoj Kumar and Henry Foy; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani)

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