| NEW DELHI, March 17
NEW DELHI, March 17 India's opposition forced
parliament to adjourn on Thursday and demanded Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh resign over a WikiLeaks report that his party
paid bribes to win a confidence vote in 2008, a fresh blow to
the scandal-tainted coalition.
The Hindu newspaper, citing U.S. diplomatic cables released
by WikiLeaks, said a ruling Congress party official told a U.S.
diplomat they had a fund of 500-600 million rupees ($11-13
million) to pay off lawmakers in 2008.
The WikiLeaks report said the Congress official
had showed the diplomat two chests of cash and said four
lawmakers of a regional party had been paid 100 million rupees
($2.2 million) each to secure their support.
Analysts said the report was unlikely to affect the
stability of the government, given the charges were old and that
the new revelations could be written off as the personal
perception of a diplomat that could not hold in a court of law.
But it added to the woes of a government already under fire
for a slew of corruption cases, including a telecoms scam
estimated to have cost the state billions of dollars.
"It is embarrassing for the government, but it is not that
serious. Nobody is going to vote against the government on
this," said D.H. Pai Panandikar, head of New Delhi-based think
tank RPG Foundation.
The WikiLeaks report seemed to back earlier charges by the
main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the vote was
bought, and adds pressure to Singh, reeling from the corruption
charges against his administration.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said Singh's government had lost
"This government has been under attack for the last three
months, but this is a hammer blow that it cannot recover from,"
Swaraj said in parliament. "It has lost all moral responsibility
The speaker of the house was forced to suspend proceedings
for the day after BJP lawmakers noisly demanded Singh resign.
OPPOSITION ON OFFENSIVE
The WikiLeaks report adds to a long list of scandals, led by
charges the former telecoms minister took bribes to dole out
lucrative phone licences at rock bottom prices. That cost the
state coffers as much as $39 billion in lost revenue, the
government auditor has estimated.
Political protests over the scandals have led to economic
reforms, such as opening up the supermarket sector for foreign
investors and the deregulation of diesel prices, being put on
"(The aide) mentioned money was not an issue at all, but the
crucial thing was to ensure that those who took the money would
vote for the government," the newspapers quoted from the cable.
Another Congress leader told the diplomat "PM Singh and
others" had tried get a businessman to persuade a regional
official to support the government, but had failed, the
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government could
not confirm or deny the report. 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.
Ahead of the vote in 2008, BJP lawmakers had brandished in
parliament wads of currency notes they claimed Congress
officials had given them to support the government.
The government narrowly won the vote, which was forced on it
after Communists pulled their support due to a landmark civil
nuclear cooperation deal between the United States and India.
Singh has been attacked by the opposition for appearing to
pander to U.S. interests, and staked his political career on the
landmark nuclear deal.
The report appears to have some inconsistencies. The four
lawmakers whom the Hindu report said were paid bribes by the
Congress official actually voted against the government. A
committee set up to probe the charges in 2008 gave an
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy)