Most Indians accept that corruption runs deep in politics. But dramatic allegations of bribery made in parliament by opposition lawmakers during a nationally-televised debate have shocked the nation. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.
The vote on a confidence motion the government faced this week was expected to be so close that no one ventured to predict whether it would pass. It should have been a moment of triumph for the government, when it won by a margin of 19 votes.
But nobody is talking about the government's decisive victory. Instead the nation's focus is firmly on images of three lawmakers from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, who interrupted the debate in parliament by brandishing wads of cash they claimed they had been given by a government ally to throw the vote.
As a shocked nation watched the pandemonium that erupted on national television, parliament was quickly adjourned.
The government has shrugged off the allegations of vote buying. Jayanti Natarajan is a spokeswoman for the ruling coalition-leading Congress Party. She says the charges are a stunt staged by the opposition because it was set to lose the debate.
"It's a win fair and square. Let us for once congratulate the prime minister for having won the trust vote," she said.
But political analysts say the government will not easily be able to shake off the opposition charge that it bribed its way to victory. They say the win was made possible because 14 lawmakers defied their parties to favor the trust vote, while another four abstained, helping the government shore up its numbers.
Columnist Hiranmay Karlekar says it is not possible to determine the veracity of the allegations until a parliament investigation into the charges is completed.
But he says a culture of corruption has pervaded Indian politics since the 1960's, with lawmakers from all parties willingly changing sides, in return for favors.
"There has been a slow, snowballing tradition of political nimble-footedness, people crossing over, coming over, what we have [here] is another example of what has been going on for some time, and becoming progressively worse," said Karlekar. "If this kind of thing goes on, I can only say the country's political future is not terribly bright."
The commentary in the national media has been harsh, saying images of lawmakers waving money in parliament has tarnished parliament's image. Headlines such as "PM Wins, Parliament Plumbs New Depths," dominate newspapers. One commentator calls it "the ugliest face of Indian democracy".
Others say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his clean image, has won a big victory, but that it has been overshadowed by the controversy of vote buying.
The confidence vote was held after communist allies withdrew support to the government over its decision to finalize a civilian nuclear pact with the United States.