Indian opposition demands PM quit over bribery scandal

By C.J. Kuncheria and Henry Foy, Reuters

NEW DELHI — 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 (US$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 (US$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. 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 its legitimacy. “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 to govern.”

The speaker of the house was forced to suspend proceedings for the day after BJP lawmakers noisily demanded Singh resign.