23 Jul 2008

Indian government survives vote

4:30 pm on 23 July 2008

India's Congress Party-led government has survived a vote of confidence over a civilian nuclear deal with the United States, amid claims of vote buying.

The vote was passed by 275-256. The lower house was packed to capacity, with MPs summoned from their sick beds and prison cells to take part. However, some MPs still abstained.

The government says the agreement will give India access to foreign nuclear fuel and technology, though critics say it makes India's energy and security policies dependent on the US.

Two days of debate on the nuclear accord ended in uproar amid opposition claims of vote-buying. Opposition MPs waved wads of cash they said they were offered as bribes by the government to abstain.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised his party will co-operate in an inquiry into the claims.

If the government had lost the vote, India would have faced early elections.

India is under pressure from Washington to sign the accord before the US presidential election in November.

Last week, Indian officials met members of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to discuss plans to safeguard India's civilian nuclear facilities.

Approval of the plan by the agency is a key condition for enacting the deal.

US critics say the deal reverses half a century of non-proliferation efforts and also undermines attempts to prevent states such as Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons.