NEW DELHI, Mar 18 – India\’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday denied any knowledge of allegations that the embattled Congress government bribed MPs ahead of a crucial 2008 vote of confidence in parliament.
The uproar over the cash-for-votes claims, set out in US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, has led to opposition calls for Singh\’s resignation and comes as the government struggles against a mountain of corruption scandals.
"I have not authorised anyone to purchase any votes, I am not aware of any acts of purchasing votes," Singh told a conference in New Delhi. "I\’m not at all involved in any of these transactions."
Singh has been under intense pressure as he tries to shrug off the corruption scandals that have badly undermined his "Mr Clean" reputation.
Noisy opposition protests forced parliament to adjourn for a second day on Friday as lawmakers demanded that Singh\’s government resign over the claims.
The leader of the country\’s Communist Party, Gurudas Dasgupta, said they pointed to a "murder of democracy".
US diplomatic messages released by WikiLeaks to The Hindu newspaper reported that Nachiketa Kapur, identified as an aide to prominent Congress figure Satish Sharma, allegedly said $2.5 million had bought the votes of four MPs.
A US staffer in New Delhi was shown "two chests containing cash" and was also told that $25 million was "lying around" to ensure the government would survive the vote, according to the leaked cables.
The July 2008 vote has long been the subject of corruption claims. At the time, opposition MPs debating in parliament waved wads of money which they claimed the government was using to try to bribe them.
Singh told the conference he had "serious doubt about (the) veracity of the diplomatic dispatches".
But he added the events showed the need for "strong, purposeful electoral reforms" to make murky funding of India\’s political parties "more transparent and accountable".
"There should be no doubt about government\’s determination to our root out corruption and to clean our political system," he added.
Singh conceded that the corruption allegations that have engulfed his government "affect our image at home and abroad".
Singh\’s Congress-led coalition was re-elected in 2009, but has since become mired in scandals ranging from the cut-price sale of telecoms licences to graft surrounding last year\’s Commonwealth Games.
Both Kapur and Sharma, a close associate of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, on Thursday protested their innocence over the cash-for-votes claims.
The alleged incident occurred shortly before Singh narrowly survived the confidence vote over a controversial deal to allow India to buy US nuclear reactors and fuel.
Pushing through the deal, which ended energy-hungry India’s civil nuclear isolation, has been billed as Singh’s greatest political triumph.
The US government has declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables, saying it is not its policy to make statements on classified material.