Indian Prime Minister urged to quit over bribery allegations

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The Independent Online

India's opposition parties forced parliament to adjourn yesterday and demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resign over a WikiLeaks report suggesting his party paid bribes to win a confidence vote in 2008.

In a fresh blow to the scandal-tainted coalition, The Hindu newspaper – citing United States diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website – said a ruling Congress party official told a US diplomat that they had a fund of 500 to 600 million rupees (£6.8m to £8.2m) to pay off lawmakers in 2008.

The WikiLeaks report said the Congress official showed the diplomat two chests of cash and said four lawmakers of a regional party had been paid 100 million rupees each to secure their support. The WikiLeaks report seemed to back earlier charges by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that the vote was bought, and adds to the pressure on Mr Singh, who is already reeling from the corruption charges against his administration.

"This government has been under attack for the last three months, but this is a hammer blow that it cannot recover from," said Sushma Swaraj, the BJP leader, in parliament. "It has lost all moral responsibility to govern." The speaker of the House was forced to suspend proceedings for the day after BJP lawmakers nosily demanded Mr Singh resign.

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 civil nuclear co-operation deal between the US and India. Mr Singh has been attacked by the opposition for appearing to pander to US interests and staked his political career on the landmark nuclear deal.

The WikiLeaks report appears to have some inconsistencies. The four lawmakers The Hindu said were paid bribes by the Congress official actually voted against the government.

Analysts said the report was unlikely to affect the stability of the government because the charges were old and the new revelations could be written off as the personal perception of a diplomat. 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.