India Insight

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. File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

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.”

Sonia Gandhi faces rare criticism of her leadership

Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi smiles as she addresses the media at her residence in New Delhi May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

In her nearly 13 years as the all-powerful chief of the Congress party which heads India’s ruling coalition, Sonia Gandhi has, of late, rarely faced criticism of her leadership.

If anything, she has appeared to tighten her grip on the party since her early days as its leader when her authority was challenged by a trio of senior Congress leaders, who were subsequently expelled.

So when G. Venkataswamy, veteran Congress leader from southern Andhra Pradesh state, questioned Sonia’s ability to lead on Tuesday, going so far as to even suggest that she step down, it received wide publicity in the Indian press.

The ‘Manmohan’ factor reins in the Congress

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi(L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is accused of looking the other way while murky deals were on in the telecom ministry.

He has drawn flak from the opposition and his personal integrity was questioned in what may be India’s largest corruption scandal.

But with few alternatives for his role as a fill-in for the Congress heir apparent, it is no surprise Singh is being stoutly backed by his boss, powerful party chief Sonia Gandhi.

What’s in a (Gandhi) name?

A boy plays cricket near a poster of India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, inside the premises of the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi April 7, 2009.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/FilesFor the past 63 years in India, it wasn’t too difficult for most ministers to think up a name for a highway, a nuclear plant or a scheme to crank up the production of solar energy.

They just picked one of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts who had ruled the country for most of the years since Independence and whose members are widely seen as the power behind the present Congress party-led federal government.

That cosy — and politically expedient — practice is getting frowns from the top levels of government. Local media have quoted the country’s top civil servant asking ministers to go easy on the “widespread and indiscriminate” practice, with many of the projects not delivering results.

Adviser’s attack on Congress shows party tensions

Appearing to signal dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling Congress party, the Prime Minister’s media adviser told reporters last night that the “status-quoist” party was only concerned with winning elections.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C), Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi (R) and India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel (L) attend the inauguration ceremony of the newly constructed Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi July 3, 2010 REUTERS/B Mathur“The Congress is by nature a status-quoist, pragmatic party,” Harish Khare, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was reported by the Hindustan Times as saying on Tuesday.

“It does not believe in any conviction. (Its) only conviction is to win elections,” the Indian Express added.

Has Shashi Tharoor dug his own political grave?

Is it too early to write the political obituary of Shashi Tharoor, who over the weekend resigned from the post of junior foreign minister not even a year into holding the post?

Shashi TharoorSome commentators have already written him off. Others, including a report in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cite Congress party sources to say Tharoor has not lost all the goodwill of the leadership and could one day make a comeback.

His resignation, so they say, had more to do with Congress not wanting to be seen to let Tharoor get away with it.