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MPs plead not guilty
- Nine wash hands of charge, one confused

New Delhi, Dec. 14: Not one of the cash-for-questions MPs pleaded guilty as they handed in their replies to House show-cause notices today.

Most saw it all as a “conspiracy” ' to defame them, Parliament, even the nation 'while at least one could make no sense of the notice. Could it please be worded more “coherently”, he asked the Lok Sabha inquiry committee.

The committee got cracking today after the replies came in from 10 of the 11 MPs shown by Cobrapost.com accepting wads of cash for asking questions in Parliament. The lone Rajya Sabha member in the money-for-posers (MP) XI has already been suspended.

The view at the “highest levels” of the government and the parties is that these MPs should be stripped of their membership of Parliament at the earliest, sources said. But many fellow MPs seemed to be softening towards them today, suggesting their offence didn’t warrant expulsion from the House.

The tainted MPs admitted no offence at all. One alleged the sting operation was a “conspiracy” by political opponents to defame him because he had won his seat four times. Some claimed a plot to “tar” India’s image in the eyes of the world.

The commonest explanation was that this was an attempt to “lower the prestige” of Parliament ' just what the MPs themselves have been accused of by their party bosses.

One member pleaded he did not remember meeting the girl put up by the portal as a decoy.

Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Congress chief whip in the lower House and head of the probe committee, said the panel would meet every day. The tainted MPs will be personally heard but just once.

“They will not be called again and again,” Bansal said. He added the committee had not decided whether the tainted MPs should be suspended from the House pending the probe.

The committee has also asked for the videotapes. Once transcripts of the recordings are made, the private TV channel that carried out the sting operation will be asked to depose before the panel.

Although Bansal didn’t say so, there has been a nuanced shift in the mood of parliamentarians over the past 24 hours.

Many of them, speaking off the record, said the 11 had been “shamed enough” and expulsion from the House was “too severe a punishment in proportion to the nature of the crime”.

Some even spoke of the need to act against the TV channel and portal that did the sting operation for using “dubious” means to get their footage.

“It was an entrapment for which the MPs fell. We believe that as many as 900 phones (of the MPs and their associates) were tapped over the last six months or so. If this is established, it is a very serious offence because the home ministry alone can authorise tapping for reasons it deems are valid,” a Rajya Sabha member from the Congress said.

Sources said the probe committees of both Houses could make a statement on sting operations in general.

Congress members today “admitted” that it was a “mistake” to exult over the Tehelka undercover job just because it involved National Democratic Alliance heavyweights.

“Tehelka, too, pursued questionable methods but this aspect was clouded by the larger political issues it threw up. Perhaps we need to introspect on the ethics and legality of sting jobs,” the member said.

The BJP clarified that it had not asked its six accused MPs to resign as reported in sections of the media.

“We have given them three days to clarify to the show-cause notice and in keeping with the principle of natural justice, we believe they should be given an opportunity,” said party spokesperson Sushma Swaraj.

The party has begun an internal inquiry to which three MPs -- Suresh Singh Chandel, Anna Saheb M.K. Patil and Y.G. Mahajan -- have replied. Sources said one of them had admitted he had committed an offence and said it would not be repeated. The others either claimed innocence or said they had collected “chanda” (funds) for the party.

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