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Cash-For-Votes Ahead Of Confidence Motion

Siddhartha Varadarajan in the Hindu:

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.

The cable goes on to say:

9. (C) On July 16, PolCouns met with Captain Satish Sharma, a Congress Party MP in the Rajya Sabha, a former Indian Airlines Pilot, and a close associate of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi considered to be a very close family friend of Sonia Gandhi. Sharma mentioned that he, as well as others in the party, was working hard to ensure that the UPA government wins the confidence vote on July 22. He said that the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi were committed to the nuclear initiative and had conveyed this message clearly to the party. Sharma said 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 mentioned that efforts to encourage Shiv Sena (12 votes) to abstain were on-going. While different Congress operatives were working on different groups of MPs, Sharma said that Rahul Gandhi was personally working Omar Abdullah's Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (J&KNC), whose two MPs are inclined to vote in favor of the UPA. 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. He mentioned that if the party wins the trust vote, they would then prefer to go for national elections in February or March 2009, which would give the UPA time to control prices and bring down inflation. 

10. (S) 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. 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. 

11. (S) 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.""

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