India’s ruling Congress party bribed MPs to survive a crucial vote of confidence in 2008, a diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks suggests. It describes how a senior Congress aide showed a US embassy official “chests of cash” to pay off MPs ahead of a vote over a controversial nuclear deal.
The ruling party has denied the allegations. The leak heaps further pressure on embattled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a string of corruption scandals. The leaked cable, reported in The Hindu newspaper, has caused uproar in the Indian parliament with the main opposition parties saying that Congress had “brought shame to the nation” and calling on the prime minister to resign.
‘Chests of cash’
The cable by US official Steven White said that the embassy employee had met Nachiketa Kapur, an aide of senior Congress leader Satish Sharma. It says that Mr Kapur told the embassy employee 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”.
The embassy employee said he was shown “two chests containing cash and said that around $25m (£15.5m) was lying around the house for use as pay-offs”. Nachiketa Kapur denied the report, saying: “I vehemently deny these malicious allegations. There was no cash to point out to.”
Satish Sharma told a news channel that he did not even have an aide called Nachiketa Kapur. “I never had and still don’t have a political aide,” he said. Mr Sharma is described as a “close associate of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi [and] considered to be a very close family friend of [Congress party chief] Sonia Gandhi”.
The cable said that Mr Kapur also claimed that MPs belonging to regional party Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had been paid 100 million rupees ($2.5m; £1.5m) each to ensure they voted for the “right way”. RLD leader Ajit Singh has denied the charge and said that he was “opposed to the nuclear deal” and his party MPs “voted against the government”.
These exchanges are alleged to have happened at the time of a controversial deal between India and the US which paved the way for India to massively expand its nuclear power capability. The government’s left-wing allies withdrew their support over the deal but the Congress party narrowly survived the vote despite substantial opposition. If the government had lost the vote, India could have faced early elections. A defeat would have also put the nuclear deal in doubt.
Accusations of vote-buying were also made at the time: opposition MPs waved wads of money in parliament alleging they were offered bribes to abstain. Widespread corruption in India costs billions of dollars and threatens to derail the country’s growth, a recent report by consultancy firm KPMG says.
The report says corruption is no longer just about petty bribes but about the major scandals where billions of dollars are allegedly siphoned off by government and industry. India’s Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja is under arrest on suspicion of underselling billions of dollars worth of mobile phone licences – he denies the allegations.
The government was also forced by the courts to quash the appointment of its anti-corruption commissioner, on the grounds that he himself faces corruption charges. Congress was recently forced by the opposition to set up a cross-party investigation into corruption