According to the WikiLeaks cables published by the Hindu, just five days before the United Progressive Alliance government faced a trust vote in 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal, a political aide to Congress politician Satish Sharma showed a United States embassy official 'two chests containing cash'. This, he described as part of a large stash of Rs 50 to Rs 60 crore the Congress party had put together to buy out votes from members of Parliament.
The cable sent to the State Department by US charge d'affaires Steven White on July 17, 2008 (162458: secret), mentioned a visit paid by the embassy's political counselor to Satish Sharma during which the latter described how he and others in the party were working hard to ensure the government won the confidence vote on July 22.
'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 Rupees 10 crore (about $2.5 million) for each of 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,' White wrote in his cable, adding that '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.'
Apart from this, Satish Sharma also told the political counsellor 'that Dr 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.'
Further, 'Sharma mentioned that he was also exploring the possibility of trying to get former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya to speak to Bharatiya Janata Party representatives to try to divide the BJP ranks.'
White further wrote in his cable: 'Another Congress party insider told the Political Counsellor 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".'
Interestingly, on the eve of the trust vote the Bharatiya Janata Party produced hard cash on the floor of the Lok Sabha and charged the government with using it to buy MPs' support. But the subsequent probe into the accusation went nowhere.
In White's cable, Satish Sharma is described thus: 'A Congress party MP from the Rajya Sabha, and a close associate of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who is considered a very close family friend of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.'
And what became of Nachiketa Kapur? The Hindu mentions that in November 2008, he visited the US under the State Department's I-Vote 2008 programme as an observer for that year's presidential election.
PTI adds: Captain Satish Sharma on Thursday morning told television channels that he had no aide called Nachiketa Kapur, while Kapur claimed he did not meet any American embassy official and that he had nothing to do with the confidence vote.
The UPA government won the trust vote, winning 275 votes in favour, 256 against and 10 abstentions.