The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre rules out UP tape probe

New Delhi, March 10: The Opposition today stole the thunder in the Rajya Sabha when a short-duration discussion on development funds for MPs led to raucous scenes and left the government red-faced.

The government, however, stuck to its guns and ruled out an inquiry into the controversial tapes that showed ally and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati asking Bahujan Samaj Party legislators to donate from their constituency fund to the party coffers.

Deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah had to adjourn the House for about 10 minutes to stop the slanging match between the Opposition and treasury benches. It was left to the chairman, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, to put the proceedings back on track.

Despite the bitter wrangling and the walkout by the Opposition, except by the ADMK, when minister of state for programme implementation Satyabrata Mukherjee replied on behalf of the government, the chairman succeeded in getting all parties to air their views. The Opposition parties walked out because they wanted deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to reply and not a junior minister. They said it was another manifestation of the NDA’s nonchalance towards issues of corruption.

Mukherjee said the government would not scrap the MP’s fund, as suggested by some Left MPs, but would welcome suggestions for plugging the loopholes. He made the point, repeatedly emphasised by the treasury benches, that the tapes Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party produced could not be accepted as evidence in court. “There is no question of an inquiry,” he asserted.

Kapil Sibal set the ball rolling with his opening remarks about the National Democratic Alliance government setting “new milestones to the annals of corruption in the country” and his references to the Tehelka sting operation and Mayavati’s stand at that time.

The Congress MP said Mayavati, who was not in alliance with the BJP then, had insisted that Parliament should come to a standstill till the guilty are brought to book. Each time Sibal mentioned Tehelka, the treasury benches, led by S.S. Aluwhalia and other BJP members, would stop proceedings with loud protests. They kept up their slanging match with the Opposition members, who demanded that Sibal should be allowed to speak.

Both Heptullah, when she was presiding, and Shekhawat ticked Sibal off by saying that the issue under discussion was not corruption but the “specific item on alleged misuse of the area development fund available to members of Parliament”. However, every Opposition speaker made it a point to paint the NDA government as one that turns a blind eye to corruption whenever it suits the BJP’s agenda. At the end of the debate, despite members from both sides expressing righteous indignation that all parliamentarians were being tainted by the wrong doings of a few, the overriding impression was of a government trying its best to defend the indefensible.

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