NEW DELHI – India's government survived a hotly contested confidence vote Tuesday, clearing the way for it to finalize a landmark nuclear energy deal with the United States.
The vote capped a week of intense politicking that saw the government rename an airport for a lawmaker's father, promise a high-level job to another, and — rival politicians allege — hand out millions of dollars to many others in an effort to survive.
Most observers expected a tight vote, and both the Congress party and its opponents did whatever they could to muster their forces. One ailing lawmaker was wheeled in on a gurney, and a handful jailed for crimes ranging from murder to extortion were temporarily released from prison so they could vote.
Under the agreement, India would open its civilian reactors to international inspections in exchange for nuclear fuel and technology, which it has been denied by its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and testing of atomic weapons.
To finalize the deal, India must now strike separate agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog organization, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that export nuclear material. The U.S. Congress will then vote the accord.
In New Delhi, the Congress Party-led government won with 275 lawmakers voting for it and 256 against. The number of abstentions was not immediately clear, although not all 543 members of Parliament's lower house took part in the vote.
If the government had lost, it would been forced to call elections months before the end of its term in May — a scenario the Congress party was desperate to avoid with inflation running at nearly 12 percent and economic growth slowing.
Following the vote, Congress party supporters set off fireworks outside the party's New Delhi offices.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to call the confidence vote after communist political parties withdrew their support for his government to protest the nuclear deal, which they fear will draw the country too close to Washington.
Singh has argued that India, which imports 75 percent of its oil, needs the deal to power its energy-hungry economy.
Closing Tuesday's debate over the confidence motion, Singh said in a speech to lawmakers that the deal would "lead India to become a major power center of the evolving global economy." The speech was only presented in written form because heckling opponents kept Singh from speaking.
At one point, legislators from the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party waved wads of cash in the air, saying the Congress Party and its allies had tried to bribe them to stay away from the vote. The ruckus forced a temporary adjournment of the house.
Despite its benefits, the agreement has challenged the views of many in India's political class, whose wariness of the United States dates back to the Cold War, when New Delhi had warm ties with the Soviet Union.