With poetry and a little subterfuge, Prime Minister Singh and his Congress party may have
weathered the Wikileaks storm, says Sheela Bhatt
Mana ki tere deed ke kaabil nahi hoon main/ tu mera shauk dekh, mera intezar dekh. (I accept I am not worthy of being in your sight/But look at my obsession. Look at my patience.)
Can this flirtatious couplet by Mohammad
Iqbal — considered one of the greatest Urdu
poets — steal Wikileaks’s thunder? Yes, it can,
if it is recited by Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh in the full glare of millions
of television viewers and in the presence of
over 500 lawmakers, with his eyes focused on
the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj.
What tough actions against corruption and
repeated clarifications on the government’s
position could not achieve was accomplished
by a surprising counter-attack by the prime
minister and three of his senior colleagues during the debate in the Indian parliament on the
Singh and his government, beleaguered by
scam after scam, have dismissed the Wikileaks
cables with complete contempt.
When The Hindu newspaper published
secret Wikileaks cables filed by the United
States embassy in New Delhi to the State
Department in Washington, DC, it confirmed
most Indians’ suspicion that America is bent
upon influencing New Delhi through its
embassy in Chanakyapuri. The cables revealed
that the Americans want to know everything
and dabble in everything in India’s domestic
The cables also throw light on Indians who
spoke to American diplomats at the embassy
as if they were in a church’s confessional chamber.
The Opposition parties raised hell in parliament, thinking, no doubt, that the government
would be forced to be defensive.
Instead, the government brazened it out with
manipulation, aggression and a little lie.
To the Opposition’s dismay, the Wikileaks
cables surprisingly helped a shaky prime minister to re-establish his influence over the running of government. After about seven to eight
months of will he, won’t he, Manmohan Singh
seems to be back in command of the situation.
You may want to call it the lull after the storm.
Sure, there was a lot in the leaked cables to
put the government, the prime minister and
his colleagues in an awkward situation. But in
the debate in parliament, Prime Minister
Singh, Home Minister Palaniappan
Chidambaram and Telecom Minister Kapil
Sibal came out all guns blazing.
The prime minister hit back at the
Opposition, saying instead of worrying about
millions of Indians in the restive Middle East,
the Opposition was raking up Wikileaks,
which is not verifiable. Then he recited Iqbal’s couplet.
Then the soft-spoken prime minister took on Lal
Kishenchand Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior-
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at parliament on the first day of the Budget session in New Delhi, February 21
B MATHUR/ REUTERS
‘The main Opposition party, right from the year 2004,
has adopted the attitude that we are a usurper,’ Singh said.
‘Advaniji believes that being prime minister was
his birthright. Therefore, he has never forgiven
Cue for smirks among ruling party members,
and stunned silence in the Opposition benches.
Congress party leaders even turned the debate
on its head over the buying of lawmakers’ support.
In July 2008, a sting operation by a television
news channel with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s
help showed that Samajwadi Party leader Amar
Singh — on behalf of the government — had
allegedly tried to buy off the votes of three BJP
lawmakers. Amar Singh, however, was not
caught on the sting camera.
On the day of the trust vote, July 22, 2008, the
three said BJP lawmakers showed parliament —
and the nation, via live television — wads of
cash they were allegedly offered to vote in the
Anyone familiar with New Delhi’s corridors of
power does not doubt that the July 22, 2008
vote of confidence was manipulated by the ruling party and its allies. Nineteen lawmakers
voted contrary to their parties’ positions. The
BJP had to suspend eight members of parliament after the Singh government won the trust
vote. A parliamentary committee was formed to
look into the allegations of buying lawmakers’
votes. It did a hush-hush job.
Last week, Prime Minister Singh referred to
the committee’s report.
‘ The finding of the committee,’ Singh declared,
taking the fight to the Opposition, ‘is that the
material on record does not conclusively prove
that the money contained in the bag, which was
eventually displayed in the House, was actually
sent by the persons (Amar Singh and his men)
who were alleged to have sent it for the purpose
of winning over Shri Ashok Argal, Shri Faggan
Singh Kulaste and Shri Mahavir Bhagora to vote
in favor of the Motion of Confidence. The com-
mittee have, however, found the evidence given
before the committee by three persons involved
in this episode as unconvincing, and the com-
mittee have suggested that their role in the mat-
ter needs to be investigated by investigating
And in a googly — cricket-speak for a ball that
turns the other way — the Tehelka weekly mag-
azine got hold of the police investigation into
the cash-for-votes scam. Details that were never
brought to light before became public. And that
helped the Congress party to successfully divert
focus from Wikileaks. ‘We never wanted to buy
support, it was the BJP men who wanted money
to vote against their party line’ — that was the
Congress party argument: A classic case of sub-
Even when Prime Minister Singh was denying
the charge in parliament, at least six members of parlia-