Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, who was charge sheeted in the cash-for-votes scam, was arrested and sent to a fortnight’s judicial custody over charges of bribing Opposition MPs to save the UPA government in the July 2008 trust vote.
His arrest drew immediate reactions from political parties. But the once powerful Samajwadi Party general secretary appeared to stand alone. There was no one to sympathise with him.
The Congress that survived the crucial vote – after the Left parties withdrew support over the Indo- US nuclear deal – maintained a discreet distance from the court case, saying it believed in the due process of law.
However, the BJP – whose MPs were at the centre of the case and had claimed they were being enticed with bribes to vote for the UPA – described the case as the “biggest scandal of the century” and demanded to know why action had not been taken against the beneficiaries of the scam.
Somnath Chatterjee, who was Lok Sabha Speaker in 2008, said, “I wonder why Amar Singh was allowed to be in hibernation for the last two years if someone really felt he was guilty. I am sorry to say but the fact is nobody was bothered about him.” But the CPI said the latest turn in events was a “farce” and claimed that the Delhi Police had acted at the behest of its political masters in the case.
Singh, who was a Samajwadi Party MP and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s confidant at that time, has been charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act and conspiring to abet bribery to three BJP MPs in return for votes. If convicted on both charges, which implies he had worked to bail out the then Congress- led government, Singh could get a maximum jail term of seven years.
BJP members Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahabir Singh Bhagora, of the trio that included Ashok Argal, that had blown the lid off the cash- for- votes scam by waving alleged bribe money in the Lok Sabha during the trust vote, were also taken into custody after their bail pleas were rejected. They will be produced in court on September 19.
The arrest of Singh, now lodged in Tihar Jail, came at the end of a chaotic and dramatic day of developments that began with the MP claiming he was too ill to show up in court and ended with him pleading for relief because of his medical condition and on behalf of his children.
Singh, by far the best known person to be arrested so far in the case that has bedeviled both the Congress and the BJP, had been summoned to appear before the court at 10 am. But he initially chose to file an exemption application claiming he was suffering because of his kidney transplant in September 2010. Special Judge Sangita Dhingra Sehgal was not satisfied with the plea, and asked Singh’s counsel to provide more detailed documentation about his medical history. “A person who fell ill in 2010 and who you say is now still ill, is not enough,” the court said after Singh had applied for exemption from personal appearance.
Worried that the court was unhappy with his no- show – and apparently concerned about media reports – Amar decided to rush to the Tis Hazari court complex, entering along with his entourage and police escort around 12: 30 pm. “I lost my kidneys and I am now living on borrowed kidneysâ¦ because of the chance of infection, I was medically advised to remain in bed,” Singh told the court as he personally argued his case. “But when I was in my house, I saw the TV channels. I was worried to see them saying I am running away from justice.”
Delhi Police Crime Branch’s charge sheet in the matter, however, paints a picture of BJP activist Sohail Hindustani and L. K. Advani’s former aide Sudheendhra Kulkarni working with the BJP MPs to entrap members of the majority, with Amar Singh ultimately playing along. The probe report claims Singh helped provide and transport the money that was ultimately brandished in Parliament, although it does not identify the source of the money.
Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan, objected to Singh’s bail plea saying the gravity and magnitude of the case meant that custody should be an option for the court even if Singh hadn’t been arrested during the investigation. “You cannot have a graver offence than questioning our constitution’s basic feature: democracy,” Mohan said.
Singh’s arrest set the political ball rolling almost immediately, with the principal players taken their expected positions. Congress spokesperson Abhishek M. Singhvi came up with a classic spiel to sum up the situation: “A political party like the Congress believes in the due process of law.” He said the legal process was followed and that Singh’s arrest was the culmination of a very closely monitored probe by the Supreme Court.
The BJP was not about to let it pass. The party’s spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy demanded to know why action was not taken against the “beneficiaries of the cash- for- votes” scam.
“This was the biggest scandal of the century. Yet, the major charge of who the beneficiaries were has not been clarified,” said Rudy. He asked Singh to name the beneficiaries of the cash- for- vote scam.
Interestingly, the BJP’s alliance partner and Janata Dal ( United) president Sharad Yadav stressed that the debate about “who was behind Amar Singh” should happen in Parliament.
“Amar Singh is one individual who has polluted the entire political class and is responsible for lowering the prestige of Parliament and parliamentarians alike. He graduated to politics through his corporate connections. Who was behind him is a matter that Parliament will discuss and deal with. It is good that he has been punished,” said Yadav.
Veteran CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should make a statement to satisfy Parliament that justice has been done. “One can say that Amar Singh was just the right man at the right time. But how can the people of this country be satisfied with this farce? The Delhi Police have obviously acted at the behest of their political masters to put a lid on the money trail and establish linkages to those who really benefitted from the scam,” said Dasgupta.
BJP’s senior spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad described the arrested MPs as “whistle- blowers” who exposed the cash- for- votes scam. “BJP has been saying all along that the Manmohan Singh government was saved in an illegal manner by paying bribes to MPs. But we consider the arrest of the whistle- blower MPs as wrong. Delhi Police should expand the ambit of its probe to find out the role of the Congress,” he said.
BJP MP Argal asked, “If we had indulged in corruption would we have called for TV cameras? Would we have brought notes to Parliament to prove how the Congress government was being saved.”
Meanwhile, Kulkarni asked through a counsel to be exempt from appearance as he is currently abroad, promising to present himself as soon as he returned.