Wikileaks cash for votes allegations implicate India’s Congress
India’s ruling Congress party offered cash for votes to pass a crucial 2008 confidence vote in parliament, a secret U.S. state cable released on Thursday said, embroiling Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government in yet another corruption scandal that risks further opposition attacks on the graft-smeared coalition.
The secret U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on Thursday details a conversation between a senior Congress party member and a U.S. Embassy official surrounding the payment of almost $9 million by a government facing a crucial confidence vote to members of a regional political party to secure their support.
While the cable could not be independently verified by Reuters, its contents threaten to expose illegal practices that many fear are part and parcel of Indian politics.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who has in recent months led a scathing attack on the Congress party-led coalition government for failing to tackle corruption in India, posted on Twitter: “The wikileaks details in today’s Hindu about payoffs to MPs are shocking. I will raise this issue in Parliament today.”
Both houses of parliament were adjourned after 30 minutes on Thursday after uproar over the cable’s contents.
The cable details a conversation between an aide of Satish Sharma, Congress party MP and close associate of party chief Sonia Gandhi, and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Steven White in which the aide states that four MPs belonging to the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) party had been paid 100 million rupees ($2.2 million) each in order to secure their support for the government in a tight confidence vote over the Congress party’s support of a nuclear deal between India and the U.S.
White, who authored the secret cable, described how Embassy staff were shown two chests containing 500-600 million rupees ($11-13 million) that had been earmarked for “use as pay-offs”.
The RLD party MPs, of which there are three, not four as specified in the cable, stood against the government in the vote, which Singh’s Congress party won with 275 in favour and 256 against in the lower house of parliament.
“I have three and not four MPs so the facts in WikiLeaks are wrong. I had decided a long time back to go along with the Left, and not to vote for the UPA. So the question of negotiating with money doesn’t arise. There was no question of influence on me to change my stand,” Ajit Singh, RLD party president, told CNN-IBN.
Prior to the July 2008 vote, Bharatiya Janata Party opposition MPs brandished wads of cash at ruling party officials accusing them of paying for MPs to support the government.
While the leaked cable is likely to increase pressure on parliament to reconsider the allegations against Prime Minister Singh’s party, the faith in the morality of India’s political elite – both on the streets of New Delhi and in foreign ministries overseas – after a season of corruption scams, looks set to fall further.