By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi, 22 July 2008
India's Congress-Party led coalition government has won a confidence vote, paving the way for it to go ahead with a civilian nuclear deal with the United States. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the vote was interrupted by allegations that government supporters had bribed lawmakers to win the vote.
At the end of a raucous two-day debate, the government won the confidence vote Tuesday by a wider than expected margin. It got the support of 275 lawmakers - 19 more than the opposition, and many more than most had expected. Ten lawmakers abstained from voting.
The confidence vote was called after communist parties pulled back support from the government, saying they would not allow it to proceed with a civilian nuclear deal with Washington that would give India access to global nuclear commerce.
A happy Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had won a convincing victory. He also indicated that he is now ready to press ahead with the nuclear deal.
"This will send a message to the world at large that India's head and heart is sound, that India is prepared to take its place in the comity of nations," said Manmohan Singh.
But the government's victory was marred by allegations of vote buying.
Lawmakers of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party brought bags stuffed with bundles of cash into parliament mid-way through the debate, and waved the money in the air claiming they were paid bribes by a government ally.
Parliament was thrown into confusion as opposition lawmakers demanded the prime minister's resignation. They did not allow him to make a speech in parliament.
The Congress Party says it has won a clean victory, and the allegations of bribing lawmakers were deliberately planted by their opponents because they were set to lose the vote.
For days, New Delhi has swirled with reports the Congress Party and the opposition have been offering hefty bribes and other political favors to lawmakers to win their support.
The nuclear pact with the United States was at the heart of the two-day debate that preceded the vote. Government supporters defended the deal, saying the country desperately needs alternative sources of energy to help it overcome the huge shortfall facing the nation.
Opponents said the deal will bring India under greater influence of the United States, and compromise the country's nuclear weapons program.
The nuclear deal still has to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress. India is barred from getting nuclear technology because it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.