manmohan singh
Both houses in parliament on Thursday witnessed opposition demands for Prime Minister Singh's resignation. - Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: As nations, led by China, questioned their reliance on atomic energy, a WikiLeaks disclosure on Thursday showed the Indian government had paid bribes to MPs to secure their vote for a nuclear future.

The quoted WikiLeaks cables from the US embassy in Delhi as reporting that India's Congress party officials had briefed American diplomats of their commitment to pass the vote in 2008.

One Indian conduit showed the Americans boxes stacked with currency notes that he said were meant for a number of opposition MPs to woo them to vote for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's pet nuclear power project.

According to the Hindu, five days before the Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US embassy employee “two chests containing cash”.

The man said it was part of a bigger fund of about $25 million that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs.

In a cable, dated July 17, 2008, sent to the State Department, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, US Charge d'Affaires Steven White wrote about a visit the embassy's political counselor paid to Satish Sharma, who is described as “a Congress Party MP in the Rajya Sabha ... and a close associate of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi considered to be a very close family friend of Sonia Gandhi”.

Mr Sharma told the US diplomat that he and others in the party were working hard to ensure the government won the confidence vote on July 22. After describing the approaches the Congress leader said had been made to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Akali Dal, Mr White gave a shocking detail.

“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 about $2.5 million” for 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.”

Lest this should be construed by the visiting diplomats as an empty boast, “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.”

Independently, Mr Sharma told the political counselor “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 said “the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi were committed to the nuclear initiative and had conveyed this message clearly to the party.”

Efforts were also on to try and get the Shiv Sena to abstain. Further, “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.”

Both Mr Sharma and Mr Kapur denied the confidential American claim revealed on Thursday.

“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'.”

Both houses in parliament on Thursday witnessed opposition demands for Prime Minister Singh's resignation. The Congress said the current Lok Sabha had no business to discuss the events of the previous Lok Sabha.