New Delhi, Dec. 13: A senior member of Parliament said fellow travellers on a flight to Delhi last night badgered him for an answer to what possessed 11 of his colleagues to take money to ask questions in the House.
The MP recounted the incident on condition that his name, his party and his travel route will not be disclosed.
While persistent questions from other passengers left him deeply embarrassed, his wife was enraged. He closed his eyes and feigned sleep to avoid the questions. When the flight landed, he quietly slipped away.
In and outside Parliament, there was a sullen silence tinged with anxiety the day after the Money-for-Posers (MP) XI was shown on TV accepting cash.
The only time the oppressive air lifted a little was when the members clapped as the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha ethics committee, Karan Singh, read out a resolution recommending suspension of the BJP’s Chhattrapal Singh Lodha, who was caught taking Rs 15,000.
But the dominant view was that nothing less than expulsion from Parliament would be enough. “Look at the sentiments on the ground. Their own voters feel betrayed and are burning their effigies. If any of these MPs appears before them, he will be thrashed,” said a former associate of BJP member Pradeep Gandhi whose “price” was Rs 55,000 for six questions.
The government is considering taking criminal action against the MP XI because bribe-taking is a criminal, and not a civil, offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act. But sources clarified that this option would be weighed after the Parliament session and on completion of the House probe and action.
The BJP, to which six of the MP XI belong, recommended suspension of the five Lok Sabha members to the inquiry committee of the House. The panel, headed by Congress chief whip Pawan Kumar Bansal, has set a deadline of 10.30 am on December 14 for the members to file their replies.
Congress sources said efforts to speak to the members, including the lone one from their party, on phone proved futile. Only Suresh Singh Chandel of the BJP responded to queries from TV reporters, but he, too, could not be traced by the government.
Addressing his MPs, BJP president L.K. Advani said: “It has hurt the party’s prestige.”
Spokesperson Sushma Swaraj quoted him as saying: “If anybody says it was done carelessly or unintentionally, it is unacceptable because it has lowered every member’s dignity.”
Advani reminded them that new members were always told the practice of taking money for asking questions and misusing development funds given to MPs should be shunned. “Despite our warnings, this happened,” he said.
The BJP set up an internal committee headed by Bal Apte to probe the conduct of its members.
The Congress ' relieved that Volcker was out of the BJP’s sights for now ' said this was an “opportunity for enforcing very strict rules of ethical behaviour”.