New Delhi: In what may come as a major embarrassment to the ruling UPA alliance at the Centre, it has emerged that the Congress party tried to buy votes of MPs of other political parties to ensure that Manmohan Singh government survived crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008.
As per a report published by a leading daily, a close aide of senior Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US Embassy employee “two chests containing cash”, which according to him was part of Rs 50-60 crores arranged by the party to purchase support of MPs.
Not only this, Sharma’s political aide also revealed to the US national that Congress party has already paid Rs 10 crore each to four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal to secure vote in favour of the UPA government.
The revelations are contained in the secret US State Department cable (162458) sent on July 17, 2008. The cable, sent by US Charge d'Affaires Steven White, talked about a visit the Embassy's Political Counselor paid to Satish Sharma, who was described as “a Congress Party MP in the Rajya Sabha having close links with the family of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and someone very close to party president Sonia Gandhi.”
As per the report, Sharma informed the US Embassy official that he and his colleagues were doing everything to ensure that the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh survives the confidence vote on July 22.
The Congress leader also revealed that efforts were being made to win support of the MPs belonging to the main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Akali Dal,
The US Charge d'Affaires also mentioned that on July 16-five days ahead of the confidence vote- Sharma's political aide Nachiketa Kapur told an Embassy staff member that Ajit Singh's party had been paid Rs 10 crore for each of their four MPs.
Kapur also mentioned that the Congress leadership was not at all worried about money, but wanted things to fall in line when the government faced the confidence vote.
Sharma’s aide even showed the Embassy employee two chests containing cash and said that around Rs 50-60 crore had been arranged, which will be used as pay-offs.
On his part, Sharma had assured the Political Counselor that the Prime Minister and his colleagues were working to win support of eight Akali Dal MPs through financier Sant Chatwal, but it did not work out later.
Sharma also revealed to him that the top Congress leadership including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and PM himself were in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal 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 quoted the US official as saying.
The sensational expose by the WikiLeaks has confirmed that Congress leadership was ready to explore all avenues to win support of MPs in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Shockingly, as per the cable, another Congress Party leader Kamal Nath, who was the minister of commerce and industry, offered small planes as bribes to those who were willing to vote in favour of the UPA government.
However, despite the Congress party taking all efforts to win support of MPs, the US Embassy concluded that the UPA could only maintain only a “precarious lead” in the forthcoming confidence vote.
It concluded that government still had a slim majority and anticipated about 273 votes in favor, 251 opposed, and 19 abstentions during the confidence motion.
The prediction made by the US Embassy came close to the actual figures as Prime Minister Singh got 275 votes in favour with 256 against and 10 abstentions. Just before the confidence vote, the cash-for-vote rocked the nation as BJP produced wads of notes 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.
However, subsequent investigations into the matter failed to establish anything concrete.
The secret US 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.
Meanwhile, RLD chief Ajit Singh has strongly denied the WikiLeaks expose by pointing out that his party has only three MPs not four as mentioned in the WikiLeaks expose.
He added that, he had not decided to vote in favour of the nuke deal and had considered going with the Left parties, so there is no question of the Congress trying to influence him.
First Published: Friday, March 18, 2011, 00:20