A political aide of Congress MP Satish Sharma showed two chests filled with cash to a US embassy staffer in July 2008 and said the money was part of some Rs 50-60 crore lying in the Gandhi loyalist’s house for payoffs to opposition MPs. The claims in a US embassy cable are part of fresh Wiki-Leaks revelations published in The Hindu on Thursday stating that one Nachiketa Kapur told a staffer days before UPA-1 faced a trust vote in the Lok Sabha that money was not a problem in mobilizing support for the vote. Kapur is reported to have said Ajit Singh’s RLD’s four MPs were paid Rs 10 crore each. “The crucial thing,” it states Kapur told the embassy staffer, “was to ensure that those who took the money would vote for the government.” Kapur showed the staff two chests containing cash and said “around Rs 50-60 crore was lying around the house for use as payoffs”. The cables detail the hectic lobbying preceding the July 22 vote forced by Left withdrawing support on the India-US nuclear deal. It mentions a report on industrialist Mukesh Ambani offering to help secure Shiv Sena’s support, about the possibility of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi meeting JMM MPs and a bid to work on Akalis through US-based businessman Sant Singh Chatwal. Sharma apparently told the US embassy political counselor that Rahul Gandhi was speaking to NC’s Omar Abdullah and said the attempt to woo the Akalis did not work out. A Congress insider is reported to have said that then commerce minister Kamal Nath was “also helping to spread largesse”. In a detailed account of meetings, mixed with judicious analysis of the government’s prospects, the cables talk of political horse trading in anticipation of the vote and PM Manmohan Singh and BJP’s L K Advani hosting rival dinners to mobilize support. It talks of the Left’s troubles with Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s refusal to quit and Ajit Singh’s success in getting Lucknow’s Amausi airport renamed after his late father Charan Singh. Sharma is quoted to say that he was trying to sow divisions in BJP by working on former PM A B Vajpyee’s son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. The cable touched on the Prakash Karat-Sitaram Yechury fault lines, mentioning the latter had admitted it was a mistake to have listed Speaker Chatterjee as a CPM MP in a letter withdrawing support submitted to the President on July 8. It mentions a group of CPM MPs were unhappy at Karat for his “failed” strategy. The embassy reports pay Left parties a compliment stating though defections were a possibility, communist party discipline remained strong and members were unlikely to vote with the government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that no one from the Congress or the government had ‘‘indulged in any unlawful act’’ during the trust vote in July 2008, emphasizing that the cash-for-vote issue had ceased to be relevant after the defeat in the last election of the parties that had attributed the UPA’s win in the 2008 trust vote to bribery. He added, ‘‘It is unfortunate that the opposition continues to raise old charges that have been debated, discussed and rejected by the people of India. It is most surprising that speculative, unverified and unverifiable communications should be given dignity and seized upon by the opposition parties to revive old charges that have been soundly rejected.’’ The BJP responded by threatening to bring a privilege motion against the Prime Minister.
Even as the Congress questioned the veracity of the WikiLeaks cables, party circles appeared to be in agreement with the assessment of US diplomats that PM Manmohan Singh was keen to appoint deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia as finance minister in 2009 but had to give in to the party’s preference for Pranab Mukherjee. The cable, published on Friday, suggests US secretary of state Hillary Clinton questioned Ahluwalia not being chosen and sought information on Mukherjee’s stand on businesses and reforms.