M A I N   N E W S

11 MPs caught on camera l No one will be spared: Speaker
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

In the dock

Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP) Sidhi, UP

Y.G. Mahajan (BJP) Jalgaon, Maharsahtra

Raja Ram Pal (BSP)
Bilhaur, UP

Lal Chandra Kol (BSP) Robertsganj, UP

Anna Saheb M.K. Patil (BJP) Erandol, Maharastra

Pradeep Gandhi (BJP) Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh

Suresh Chandel (BJP) Hamirpur, HP

Narendra Kumar Kushwaha (BSP) Mirzapur, UP

Manoj Kumar (RJD) Palamau, Jharkhand

Ramsevak Singh (Cong) Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

New Delhi, December 12
Eerie silence prevailed in both Houses of Parliament today as the nation saw the soul-stirring visuals of 11 MPs belonging to four different political parties, including Suresh Chandel, BJP MP from Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, accepting cash for raising questions in the House.

In the imposing corridors of Parliament, peoples’ representative were seen dazed and their monosylibic reaction to the ‘questiongate’ was “unfortunate”, “sad”, “shocking” and “ashamed.”

In a joint meticulously planned operation, Tehelka-fame Aniruddha Bahal of cobrapost.com and Aaj Tak secretly filmed in a sting operation MPs accepting bribes ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 1.10 lakh for raising questions in the House. The expose comes on the eve of the fourth anniversary of December 13, when militants attacked Parliament, pillar of Indian democracy, in 2001.

Ten of the MPs were from the Lok Sabha. Five of them belonged to the BJP, three to the Bahujan Samaj Party and one each to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress. The sixth BJP MP was from the Rajya Sabha.

They were identified as M.K. Anna Sahib Patil (BJP, Erandol), Y.G. Mahajan (BJP, Jalgoan), Pradip Gandhi (BJP, Rajnandgaon), Suresh Chandel (BJP, Hamirpur), Baba Saheb Chandra Pratap Singh (BJP, Sidhi), Ram Sevak Singh (Congress, Gwalior), Manoj Kumar (RJD, Palamau), Narendra Kumar Kushwaha (BSP, Mirzapur), Lal Chandra (BSP, Robertsganj) and Raja Ram Pal (BSP, Bilhour).

The BJP Rajya Sabha member was identified as Chatra Pal Singh Lodha (Orissa).

Interestingly, the expose comes within days of the Volcker report on oil-for-food scam, which evoked high decibal protests and stalling of proceedings.

As the business for the day began, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, expressing anguish at the expose, told the MPs : “Please do not attend the session of the House until the matter is looked into and a decision is taken.”

"Nobody will be spared. We shall certainly respond to it in a manner that behoves us," he said.

The Lok Sabha Secretariat has sent notices to the 10 members of the House named in the scandal and asked them to reply by December 14 afternoon. The 11th MP belongs to the Rajya Sabha and the house Ethics Committee has already taken up the issue. The Speaker, who had spoken to leaders of the all the political parties, including the Leader of Opposition, has constituted an all-party committee to discuss ways of dealing with the expose.

Mr Chatterjee said: “I have spoken with the leaders of all parties, including the Leader of the Opposition. This is a very serious matter. It is very unfortunate that this has happened.”

The Question Hour passed off almost peacefully, with little interruption, and the issue was raised during Zero Hour when member after member rose to condemn the episode and demand action against the guilty.

Immediately after question hour, the Speaker called on the listed item of Calling Attention Motion on the plight of coffee growers in South India.

This, however, irked BJP member Lalmuni Chaubey, who stood up and demanded immediate discussion on questiongate expose.

“Such a serious issue has happened. Parliament's dignity is in question and we are reacting as if nothing has happened. This house gets stalled on the smallest issues. No one wants to take up big issues,” he said, and walked out of the house. But no other MP followed him.

The Lok Sabha Speaker observed that the reaction of Chaubey was “most unfortunate. I have already made an observation,” and permitted an adjournment motion on the scam.

Members cutting across partylines expressed their anguish and demanded severe punishment to those found guilty. They also demanded speedy inquiry into the incident so that the dignity of Parliament is restored.

CPI floor leader in the Lok Sabha said: “I feel ashamed to be sharing the platform with such MPs.”

Prabhunath Singh of JD(U) said “We cannot even show our faces to the people. This is such a great embarrassment.”

CPM leader Basudev Acharya said: “This is a very serious incident. It will harm the dignity of the House. Those found guilty should be severely punished.”

Haren Pathak of BJP said: "This shows the sorry state of affairs in Parliament.”

Chandigarh MP and Congress chief whip Pawan Kumar Bansal said action had already been taken against the party MP involved in the scam.



How the operation was conducted

THE sting named ‘Operation Duryodhana’ by cobrapost.com and Aaj Tak was spread over eight months — April to November — the ‘investigation’ logged more than 56 video and 70 audiotapes besides recording more than 900 phone calls, Cobrapost.com said.

The MPs shown on TV taking bribes were BJP Lok Sabha members M.K. Anna Patil (Erandol-Maharashtra) Y.G. Mahajan (Jalgoan-Maharashtra), Pradip Gandhi (Rajnandgao-Chattisgarh) and Suresh Chandel (Hamirpur-Himachal Pradesh). Congress MP Ram Sevak Singh (Gwalior), Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar (Palamau-Jharkhand) and Bahujan Samaj Party MPs Narendra Kumar Kushwaha (Mirzapur-UP) and Lal Chandra (Robertsganj-UP), Raja Ram Pal (Balhour-UP) and BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Orissa Chatra Pal Singh Lodha were also shown accepting money.

Aniruddha Bahal of the website said “While, the majority of Indian parliamentarians raise issues and questions purely on the basis of public interest there are a few who set a price on this public duty of theirs. For us at Cobrapost.com it was an astonishing revelation.”

For submitting all these questions, MPs took money ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 1,10,000. Several MPs also wanted an ‘annual fee’ of Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh from NISMA for the organisation to put in as many proxy questions as it wanted, through the MPs concerned, in Parliament, it alleged. The statement said, “Parliament is the living symbol of Indian democracy. Its members have to follow the code of conduct set by the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, and they are always under public and media scrutiny. We found during the course of our investigation that this sacred institution was being undermined by a few.”

Besides taking cash for asking questions in Parliament, some MPs were also open to the idea, and quoted their price, between a few lakh to Rs 10 lakh, to the reporters, for organising a petition, espousing NISMA’s cause, to be submitted in Parliament.

Operation Duryodhana also unearthed a slew of middlemen, who, for a commission, introduced us to several MPs, and some of whom even served as a money conduit between the MPs and NISMA. The middlemen also liaised between NISMA and the MPs in drafting and putting in questions in the Parliament. Many of them work as personal secretaries for the MPs, it added.

The questiongate had the echos of the cash-for-question affairs, which rocked Britain in 1990s. It began in October 1994 when The Guardian newspaper alleged that London’s most successful political lobbyist Ian Greer of Ian Greer Associates, had bribed two Conservative MPs in exchange for asking parliamentary questions and other tasks, on behalf of controversial Egyptian owner of Harrods department store, Mohamed Al-Fayed.

The report alleged Al-Fayed had approached the paper and accused Greer of paying MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to table parliamentary questions on his behalf at 2,000 pounds a question.

In 1997, an official parliamentary inquiry concluded that Hamilton had been guilty and the evidence that he had taken cash from Al-Fayed was said to be ‘compelling’. The amounts involved were said to be in the region of 25,000 pounds.



Fear of more exposures haunts MPs
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 11
Reminiscent of the cash for questions scandal that rocked Britain in the early 1990s, a shocked nation found to its disgust through a sting operation brought to the viewers by Aaj Tak television news channel that 11 Parliamentarians representing the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha from different political parties had accepted bribes for raising questions in the two Houses of the highest legislative body in the country.

It sent shock waves among the MPs and leaders of various political parties in the Parliament House complex here raising inevitable questions about the transparency and intent of raising questions especially on the part of certain MPs. That Aaj Tak and its collaborators have some more juicy bits in the pipeline has raised the hackles in the political spectrum about the identity of other influential people entrapped in the sting operation.

With the Paul Volcker Committee revelations pertaining to the United Nation's Oil for Food controversy in Iraq having barely died down and taken the toll of K Natwar Singh, forced to make his exit as a union minister, law makers in the country find themselves in the eye of another raging storm having the portents of more skeletons and sleaze tumbling out of the cupboard. The reaction of the common man towards politicians and his ilk including MPs taking up their cause was one of utter contempt. They did not find it one bit surprising that despite the pious talk of rooting out corruption the menace had become all pervasive.

Cutting across party lines the highly embarrassed MPs called for an inquiry in the shortest time even as Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee appealed to the Parliamentarians concerned caught on camera accepting bribes not to attend the House till the matter is settled. The widespread feeling among the Parliamentarians was that there should be deterrent punishment against the guilty as it had become difficult to show their faces to the people.

While the Congress, BJP and the BSP immediately suspended the MPs, RJD supremo and Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav observed they have to follow a certain procedure in taking action against his party's MP. It is apparent that the political ambitions and careers of these MPs has suffered a debilitating blow.

The Left parties expressed strong disgust over the sensational expose of MPs taking bribes for asking questions and demanded "exemplary punishment" to restore the honesty and credibility of Parliament. They expressed satisfaction with Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat taking prompt and suo moto attention of the issue and debarring the "tainted" members from attending the two Houses till the inquiry is completed.

The sting operation spread over eight months since April this year was called "Operation Duryodhana." The investigation logged more than 56 video and 70 audiotapes coupled with recording more than 900 telephone calls, according to Cobrapost.com which carried out this operation. While the bulk of the questions given to the MPs related to the welfare of the small-scale industrial units, there were several public interest questions like the SEBI inquiry into the 2004 stock market crash.

Editor of Cobrapost.com Aniruddha Bahal who had become synonymous with the Tehelka expose regretted that their sting operation found that the sacred institution of Parliament was being undermined by a few.

Aaj Tak had gone to town with the sting operation since this morning and also interviewed Mr Bahal extensively. He explained that he was always at the scene of the sting operation and his reporters, especially the women, had to face some highly embarrassing and high provocative moments while pursuing the cash for questions scandal. Meanwhile, four Rajya Sabha MPs have called for an independent inquiry and urged Mr Shekhawat to take a fresh look at the entire process of selection of questions.

"In order to carry credibility with the public it is essential that this inquiry is conducted by an independent authority. On the basis of this independent inquiry further action should be taken against the MPs in question," they said in a letter. The signatories to the letter are Dinesh Trivedi (Trinamool Congress), Chandan Mitra (BJP) and Tariq Anwar and Robert Kharshiing (both NCP).


BSP suspends 3 MPs
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
The Bahujan Samaj Party today suspended its three MPs who were caught on camera purportedly taking bribes for raising questions in Parliament.

BSP President Mayawati said the party had taken the developments very seriously. “It is not only related to political crime, but also raises a question on moral corruption.

The BSP has decided to suspend its three MPs with immediate effect from the party,” she said.

The party has also despatched notices to the three MPs — Narendra Kumar Kushwaha, Lal Chandra and Raja Ram Pal — asking them to clarify their position in the matter.


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