Bribery scandal in India as MPs allege government vote-rigging

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The Independent Online

A bribery investigation is under way into claims by three Indian opposition MPs that they were offered thousands of pounds by the government to abstain just hours before a crucial vote of confidence.

Mahavir Bhagora, Ashok Argal and Faggan Singh Kulaste said they were each offered 30 million rupees (£350,000) not to vote by the leader of a party allied with the ruling coalition. They said the incident had been captured on a hidden camera by a television news channel.

The investigation was ordered by the office of the Speaker of India's parliament a day after the government, led by the Congress Party, won by 19 votes a confidence ballot that will allow it to proceed with a nuclear co-operation deal with the US. The heated debate that preceded the vote was brought to a standstill when the three men waved bundles of cash they claimed had been delivered to their homes the same day. "A person came to the residence with two bags full of cash and put it on the table," Mr Kulaste later told reporters. "I asked him to open the bags to show us whether the cash was real or fake. Then he took out 10 million rupees in cash."

The three MPs for the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed they were offered the bribes by the leader of the Samajwadi Party (SP), which stepped in to support the floundering coalition government just two weeks earlier. They said the money they were given was a downpayment and more was to follow. They also claimed to have spoken to a senior member of the Congress Party as the bribe was being negotiated to assure him they would abstain. After exposing the alleged bribery attempt, they voted for the BJP.

The leader of the SP, Amar Singh, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, have dismissed the allegations of bribery. An Indian television news channel, CNN-IBN, confirmed yesterday that it had given video footage relating to the alleged bribery attempt to the Speaker's office.

Many analysts believe the scenes were indicative of what to expect in the approach to next year's general election.

"The personal relationships between the top leaders have become so ugly," said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research. "Given that... and given that following the allegations the other side is likely to want to retaliate and third that because several parties such as the SP have traditionally been so rootless, I do not expect to see pretty politics."

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