India's embattled coalition government has survived a chaotic parliamentary confidence vote, clearing the way for it to forge ahead with a civilian nuclear energy deal with the United States.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won the backing of 275 deputies against 256 who opposed his Congress-led government, mainly left-wingers and Hindu nationalists, speaker Somnath Chatterjee said at the end of a raucous session on Tuesday.

Mr Singh needed just a simple majority to survive and see through the last year of his mandate. Had he failed, the world's largest democracy will be headed into early elections – with his opponents emboldened.

The result came after a tense hand-count of some votes that apparently were not properly recorded by machine, and a furore over opposition allegations that the ruling coalition paid out large sums of cash in bribes to ensure its win.

The deal gives the government the green light to move forward with a pact with Washington designed to bring India into the global loop of nuclear commerce after decades of international isolation.

“It's a great victory for the party and the government, and this victory is dedicated to the future of the country,” said senior Congress party official Ambika Soni.

Nuclear deal

“The nuclear deal has been endorsed,” said government minister Ashwini Kumar.

The deal would allow India, which has nuclear weapons and refuses to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to be treated as a special case on condition it separates its civil and military programs and allows some UN inspections.

Government officials gave an impassioned defence of the deal during two days of special parliamentary debate, arguing that the country's 1.1 billion people badly need alternative sources of energy to avert an impending fuel crunch.

Left-wingers – who triggered the vote by withdrawing their support for Mr Singh earlier this month – and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the deal ties traditionally neutral India too closely with the United States.

They also argue it would compromise the country's nuclear weapons program.

The communists had tried to widen the terms of the debate – speaking out against rising food and fuel prices, and arguing that hundreds of millions of poor have been left behind in India's economic boom.

Bribery claims

The Revolutionary Socialist Party, one of the four left-wing parties that forced the vote, said the government's win had “blackened” the face of Indian democracy.

“We do not recognise this as a victory. They won because of intense horse-trading,” fumed party leader T J Chandrachoodan.

BJP president Rajnath Singh alleged: “There has been pressure on our MPs to take money to either abstain or vote for the government, and this has been done by the (ruling) Congress and their supporters.”

The stormy session saw three opposition BJP MPs wave bundles of cash worth 30 million rupees ($A732,200) that they said they had been paid for their votes.

“Never in the history of our parliament has such a shameful and revolting scandal unfolded,” Mr Singh said.

Officials in parliament said Mr Chatterjee had called in New Delhi's police chief to investigate the bribery claims. The speaker said it was a “sad day in the history of parliament”.

Indian government survives confidence vote