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Updated: March 18, 2011 09:10 IST

Satish Sharma aide showed U.S. Embassy employee cash to be used as ‘pay-offs’ in confidence vote

Siddharth Varadarajan
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BJP MPs show the wads of cash they had allegedly been bribed with to switch sides on July 22, 2008, the day the Manmohan Singh government faced the trust vote.
PTI/Lok Sabha TV
BJP MPs show the wads of cash they had allegedly been bribed with to switch sides on July 22, 2008, the day the Manmohan Singh government faced the trust vote.

‘Two chests containing cash’ part of a bigger fund of Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 60 crore

Five days before the Manmohan Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a U.S. Embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs. The aide also claimed the four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal had already been paid Rs. 10 crore each to ensure they voted the right way on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

In a cable, dated July 17, 2008, sent to the State Department (162458: secret), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, U.S. Charge d'Affaires Steven White wrote about a visit the Embassy's Political Counselor paid to Satish Sharma, who is described as “a Congress Party MP in the Rajya Sabha ... and a close associate of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi considered to be a very close family friend of Sonia Gandhi.”

Mr. Sharma told the U.S. diplomat that he and others in the party were working hard to ensure the government won the confidence vote on July 22. After describing the approaches the Congress leader said had been made to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Akali Dal, Mr. White drops a bombshell of a revelation:

“Sharma's political aide Nachiketa Kapur mentioned to an Embassy staff member in an aside on July 16 that Ajit Singh's RLD had been paid Rupees 10 crore (about $2.5 million) for each of their four MPs to support the government. Kapur mentioned that money was not an issue at all, but the crucial thing was to ensure that those who took the money would vote for the government.”

Lest this should be construed by the visiting diplomats as an empty boast, Mr. Sharma's aide put his money where his mouth was: “Kapur showed the Embassy employee two chests containing cash and said that around Rupees 50-60 crore (about $25 million) was lying around the house for use as pay-offs.”

Independently, Mr. Sharma told the Political Counselor “that PM Singh and others were trying to work on the Akali Dal (8 votes) through financier Sant Chatwal and others, but unfortunately it did not work out.” He said “the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi were committed to the nuclear initiative and had conveyed this message clearly to the party.” Efforts were also on to try and get the Shiv Sena to abstain. Further, “Sharma mentioned that he was also exploring the possibility of trying to get former Prime Minister Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya to speak to BJP representatives to try to divide the BJP ranks.”

The cable makes it clear the Congress campaign to buy votes was not confined to the cash-filled war chests that Nachiketa Kapur and Satish Sharma had gathered.

“Another Congress Party insider told PolCouns that Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath is also helping to spread largesse. ‘Formerly he could only offer small planes as bribes,'” according to this interlocutor, ‘now he can pay for votes with jets.'”

Despite these efforts, the U.S. Embassy concluded that the UPA maintained only a “precarious lead” in the forthcoming confidence vote. “Our best guess at this time show the government maintaining its slim majority with the anticipated vote count at about 273 in favor, 251 opposed, and 19 abstentions.”

The prediction was impressively close to the mark. Prime Minister Singh got 275 votes in favour with 256 against and 10 abstentions.

Just before the vote, the BJP produced cash on the floor of the House and alleged that this was the money the government had used to try and buy the support of MPs. But subsequent investigations ran aground. The secret U.S. Embassy cable, however, is likely to reignite Opposition allegations that bribery was resorted to on a massive scale to ensure the UPA won the 2008 vote of confidence.

The fact that Congress politicians could speak so freely to American diplomats about their bribing spree during the run up to the confidence vote — and that the latter could be so blasé about the subversion of democracy — underlines the all-encompassing but ultimately corrosive nature of the “strategic partnership” the two governments were trying to build.

As for Mr. Kapur, his candid display of crores of rupees to be used by the Congress as “pay offs” for the trust vote was not seen by the U.S. Embassy as compromising his democratic credentials in any way. In November 2008, he was sent to the U.S. under the State Department's I-Vote 2008 programme as an observer for that year's presidential election. “The move to invite international observers”, he wrote in a blog post, “reflects the open and democratic nature of the American society.”

This is so unfortunate. The prime minister of India has been alleged as 'misleading the public' by Julian Assange! Yes and it's true and anyone would wonder why an ambassador would lie about something to his own govt (in this case USA)... It was the time when PM of India should have announced a transparent investigation, the Government spokesperson was covering up the whole scandal and giving technical reasons such as sovereignty of the Lok Sabha! Who is Lok Sabha answerable to? Isn't it the people of India? Frankly speaking,I have lost faith in my own government! It's a shame for all of us!

from:  Rahul
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 01:50 IST

This is not something new and the money was already displayed in the Parliament and Congress shamelessly covered the matter. Howewver,Manmohan's statement yesterday, was utterly disgraceful.How can a PM read a prewritten statement and refuse to take any questions from the Hon Parliament Members?? He has simply exposed himself, and now the entire population know, what he is and who he is!

from:  John
Posted on: Mar 19, 2011 at 13:38 IST

The leaks point to a few things over which further debate and follow up action should take place. A nation like US keeping tab on goings on in the Government per se is to be foreseen. But the manner in which bureaucrats and politicians revealed their minds should cause concern. Report on the distribution of money of course will be denied. Since US is a party interested in the Atomic deal, the checking of the details of action taken to pass the motion in Parliament is the logical follow through. Since it is record of assessment by one party interested in the events, the absence of questions posed and actions of taken leaves doubts. Were the discussions a follow up of parleys held up at top levels to ensure the adoption of the motion? Would funding from abroad have been involved necessitating follow up? Read along with the cables on the composition of the cabinet, PM standing alone on the nuclear issue etc would only point to manipulation of the Govt by US.

from:  Gowrishankar
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 17:43 IST

"underlines the all-encompassing but ultimately corrosive nature of the 'strategic partnership' the two governments were trying to build". Please Mr Varadarajan, don't overstretch your America phobia. How is it 'ultimately corrosive'? It depends on the people handling the situation. This represents the venality and stupidity of the present government and some of it's office-bearers. There is nothing wrong with our strategic partnership per se.

from:  S Kumar
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 09:58 IST
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