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.”

Congress looks to seize the initiative as budget looms

It has been a winter to forget for India’s ruling Congress party, as a series of corruption scandals have muted its ability to control parliament, dented its popularity ratings and dappled the formerly dazzling-white kurta of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during the 11th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2011 organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/B Mathur

But rumours of a deal with the emboldened opposition to launch a parliamentary probe into corruption allegations that would end months of paralysis, and a surprise attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership by one of their former ministers could signal a ceasefire in the war of words and a light at the end of the tunnel for Congress.

TV channels, citing party sources, reported a compromise deal between the warring parties on Tuesday, as Singh announced he would be conducting a broadcasted press conference with the editors of India’s leading news channels on Wednesday, in a move to clear the air over graft allegations and restore confidence in his leadership days before parliament opens on Feb. 21.

Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

Smiles, handshakes and declarations of friendship abounded during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi on Monday, as the investigation into a $39 billion telecoms scam that has centred on the Tamil Nadu party appeared to have been forgotten in favour of coalition camaraderie.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to Karunanidhi, President of DMK (Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) party during an election rally in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 4, 2006.  REUTERS/Babu
With parliament paralysed and DMK MP Andimuthu Raja sacked from his role as telecoms minister as a result of the scam, the last thing Singh needed was signs of dissent from a key member of his Congress party’s ruling coalition.

After appearing to snub the Prime Minister on his arrival on Sunday – choosing instead to “meet a poet” – Karunanidhi, also chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was all smiles during a 25-minute meeting, telling reporters afterwards that the relationship was “strong”.

Singh returned the favour, telling national broadcaster Doordarshan: “The alliance remains as strong as ever”.

No longer business as usual for India’s parliament

A view of the parliament building in New Delhi December 1, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

The least productive parliament session in 25 years — this is not a milestone to be proud of in the world’s largest democracy.

Worse, next year’s budget session might bear the brunt of the present logjam, which is far from being resolved.

The deadlock raises questions beyond the usual debate about political ramifications. Are India’s MPs squandering public money, shelled out in the form of taxes, by stalling parliamentary proceedings?

Should the Congress agree to a JPC probe?

The parliament building in New Delhi December 1, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

With parliament still deadlocked, does it make sense for the Congress to bow to opposition demands and set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged telecoms scam?

If the government does agree to such a probe — and a few allies already think it should — it may well be in for a prolonged period of uncertainty.

A JPC in which the ruling party is in a minority and has to depend on mercurial parties for support will be a loaded gun.

Will departure of embattled India anti-graft chief end Congress party woes?

India’s Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the country’s federal anti-corruption body, has a self-affirmed mandate to “fight corruption and ensure probity in public life by taking various preventive and proactive initiatives from time to time.”
The Indian parliament on Wednesday approved a $9.8-billion additional spending bill to cover various payments including outstanding government debt, food and fertiliser subsidies, and government pensions. The bill was passed by a voice vote in parliament, a type of vote allowing the government to bypass a three-week deadlock between the ruling Congress party-led coalition and opposition parties caused by rows over a series of corruption scandals. REUTERS/B Mathur
Faced with a windfall of political scandals to investigate, red faces thus abounded at the CVC when media reports showed that its chief, and the highest anti-corruption officer in the country, P.J. Thomas, was himself facing questioning in connection with corruption allegations.

Thomas, who was appointed to the position by the Prime Minister and Home Minister in September despite being implicated in a 1992 palmolein import fraud case while serving in the Kerala state government, on Saturday found himself the subject of strong resignation rumours as the central government desperately seeks to insulate itself from contagious graft allegations

The embattled Thomas has already been stripped of his leadership of a probe into an alleged $39 billion telecoms scam due to the outstanding charges and his tenure as the Telecommunications Secretary during the time that the alleged illegalities took place in the ministry.

Budget 2010: Reactions from the common man

Rohan Dua spoke to people on the streets of New Delhi as Pranab Mukherjee tabled the 2010/11 Budget in parliament –

Playing politics over fuel price hike?

INDIA/For the first time in parliamentary history, the entire opposition led by the BJP walked out during the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

The walkout was to protest against the hike in petrol prices.

The opposition is saying the government move adds to the burden of the people.

However, the united front put by the fractious opposition also hints at some pre-planning by the opposition leaders.

Was this reaction justified?

Shouldn’t the parliamentarians have stayed back and argued the point in the House?

How to rate the budget?

INDIA-BUDGET/When the finance minister presents the budget, the stock market moves one way or the other.

And like every year this will dominate the news.

Over there and everywhere.

Is that fair? Or convincing?

Some of the analysis will follow a pattern.

If the stock market goes up, the budget may be described as successful because it didn’t “rock the boat”.

If  it moves sideways, it may be said the market had already absorbed the good news — the growth figures for instance.

Railway Budget 2010: Reactions from the common man

Urvashi Sibal spoke to passengers at the New Delhi railway station as Mamata Banerjee tabled the 2010/11 Railway Budget in parliament –

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