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Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: July 23, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/339089.html

A prompt inquiry into the cash-for-votes drama will benefit Parliament

By every account, July 22 has been one of the most dramatic days in the 50-odd years of our Parliament. The tabling of bundles of cash on the floor of the Lok Sabha was so predictably unexpected that it simultaneously invited revulsion and suspicion.

Revulsion at cash actually changing hands for votes (abstention is after all a key voting decision). And suspicion that floating anxiety about horse-trading was being fed upon to stage-manage a political spectacle. Either way, the Lower House has a crisis it must quickly investigate, and Speaker Somnath Chatterjee showed remarkable responsiveness to both the gravity of the situation and the need to get the House to transact the business of the day - that is, cast a vote on the confidence motion moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The reported tape of the allurement to "defection" is with the speaker, and it will require all of Lok Sabha's confidence for that office to play honest and sort out the aftermath of Trust Tuesday. The CPM, whose top leadership expressed disgust instantly after the dramatic pictures were telecast live on the Lok Sabha channel, must reflect on the petulance that held them firm in their demand that Chatterjee resign as speaker the moment they withdrew support to the UPA government. Tuesday amply showed that the presiding officer has a role independent of the partisan interests of the treasury and opposition benches. Both have a stake in strengthening the office.

Tuesday's cash-for-votes claims also bring into sharp relief the 1993 JMM bribery case. The final failure to have punishment awarded to anybody involved, alleged bribe taker or giver, is an unfinished story that, in fact, accommodates attempts like the ones said to have been made in this week's trust vote to buy a majority. (And the air had been particularly foul in the lead-up to the vote with many parties trying to guarantee their political agenda.) This is why Tuesday's drama is an opportunity. Democracy gains by the outing of information about how decisions and transactions are negotiated in public life. An inquiry in this case could be cleansing like the proverbial sunlight.

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