Skeletons out of UPA's closet
Sahim Salim tracks the cash-for-vote scam that rocked the government in 2008, the Bharatiya Janata Party's role in the entire episode and the latest WikiLeaks blow to the ruling combine.
Amid myriad controversies and allegations of corruption stinging the United Progressive Alliance government, a scam, long thought buried, has resurfaced. The cash-for-vote scandal had died down after a brief furor in July 2008. But The Hindu on March 17 published a WikiLeaks document that dealt a body blow to the alliance.
According to WikiLeaks, the United States diplomat, Steven White, wrote that a week before the vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal, he was shown two chests containing Rs 50 crore, intended to be distributed among members of Parliament for their support. White was quoted as saying that the money was part of a fund that was at Congress leader Satish Sharma's house.
Through the WikiLeaks cable, the BJP has raised the 2008 controversy again, citing how their MPs Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora had stormed the Parliament well by claiming that former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh had paid them to keep the UPA in power.
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Image: Wikileaks revelations have inflicted more damage on the government's credibility
Sting op gone wrong?
Sohail Hindustani, the purported whistleblower of the 2008 scam and a BJP worker, says that the government has been sleeping on the probe.
"They have no intention to conduct a probe. They directed the Delhi police to conduct an investigation into the scam two years ago. All evidence is with them, but they can't do a thing about it because of the government," Hindustani says.
When told that he has been named as one of the accused in the probe, Hindustani says, "I am yet to be questioned. They have registered a case but have been sleeping on it. If they question me, I will tell them the truth. They can even conduct a narco-test on me."
Hindustani had stolen the spotlight during the scam, when he was part of a CNN-IBN sting in July 2008, which suggested that leaders Amar Singh and Ahmad Patel offered money to BJP MPs for voting in the UPA's favor.
Hindustani, a small-time trader of gems and jewelry from Jaipur, Rajasthan has been associated with the BJP for the past 15 years. But the operation that was aired had the channel saying that nothing was conclusive and Congress leaders had criticising it for lack of evidence.
"The sting was doctored. The CNN-IBN team was interested in conducting the operation, but when they aired it, they had cut a lot of footage, probably under pressure. The channel aired the footage almost a month after the operation, suggesting that they had the time to doctor it," Hindustani says.
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Image: Picture for representation only
Once upon a whistleblower
Hindustani claims that he decided to turn whistleblower over UPA's "malicious intent tohurt" his "community's sentiments". The ruling alliance wanted to stay in power to conclude the Indo-US nuclear deal, knowing that his "community's" hatred for the deal and the then US president, George W Bush, he adds.
"I ran errands for MPs and other influential people to build my contacts. When Bardhanji made an announcement about the horse trading, I probed a little further. MPs started contacting me to know the ongoing rates for a positive vote. When I told this to senior BJP leaders, they arranged for a CNN-IBN team to conduct a sting," Hindustani says.
"The original operation clearly shows the involvement of Amar Singh and Ahmad Patel, which was never shown. After the operation was aired, the nation protested against the alliance and the government constituted a fake committee," he says.
"The matter was hushed down. Now UPA is in a tight spot again. They will constitute another fake committee to dismiss the matter. How can any probe be conducted when Manmohan Singh is involved in all this?" Hindustani says.
Asked why after a brief furor even the BJP did not pursue the matter, Hindustani says, "I am not saying that all BJP MPs are clean. The Congress may have pressured the BJP to stay quiet. Let there be a probe on the involvement of MPs across parties."
Image: Amar Singh
BJP finds its voice again
BJP MP Ashok Argal says that the Wikileaks revelation has given the issue a new perspective. "This was the perfect wake-up call the nation needed to see the UPA's reality. The cable has stated what we have been saying all along. There was a parliamentary committee constituted at the time we exposed the government, but no one from the ruling alliance was questioned and we, the whistleblowers, were pronounced guilty," Argal says.
After the scam had come to the fore in 2008, the government had constituted a Parliamentary Committee under Kishore Chandra Deo to look into the matter. After the committee came out with its report, the investigations were handed to the Crime Branch of Delhi police, which registered a case against Sanjeev Saxena, Sohail Hindustani and Sudheendra Kulkarni under Prevention of Corruption Act.
Talking about its investigations, a senior police officer from the crime branch says, "The forensic report on the CD of the sting came in January. It suggests that the CD was not doctored. The probe will now be in full swing. We will question the accused in the case and invoke further sections of the Indian Penal Code as and when required."
Image: BJP leader L K Advani