‘What I told the Cash-for-Votes scam probe panel’

The following is the full, unexpurgated text of the written statement made by Sudheendra Kulkarni, the former aide to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and currently aide to Lal Krishna Advani, before the parliamentary committee probing the cash-for-votes scandal on 22 July 2008, the day the trust motion moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came up before the Lok Sabha. Kulkarni deposed as an eye-witness.

***

August 14, 2008

To
The Honourable Speaker
Lok Sabha
New Delhi

Subject: The ‘Cash-for-Votes’ scandal in Parliament involving Shri Amar Singh, General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party; Shri Reoti Raman Singh, Samajwadi Party MP; and Shri Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to the Congress President on  July 22

***

Honourable Sir,

I am submitting the following written submission to you as an eye-witness in the “Cash-for-Votes” scandal that rocked Parliament and shocked the nation on July 22.

I have been an activist of the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1996. Between 1998 and 2004 I served as an aide to Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I am also a regular columnist in The Indian Express and several other newspapers. Both in my capacity as a political activist and as a columnist, I have endeavoured to serve the cause of secular nationalism, democracy and public good without fear or favour and to the best of my abilities.

Consequent to the withdrawal of the Left parties’ support to the UPA Government on July 8 over the Indo-US nuclear deal, I was deeply agitated by the unethical and fraudulent manner in which the UPA Government started to cobble up majority support. Well before the ‘Cash-for-Votes’ scandal broke out on July 22, I gave expression to my angry feelings and agitated thoughts in two columns (‘From ‘Lal Salaam to Dalal Salaam’, July 13, 2008 and ‘Polluting Parliamentary Democracy’, July 20, 2008).

After the scandal broke out, I wrote about it in three consecutive columns. (‘Where is the Proof?’ Asked the PM, July 27 2008; ‘Parliament on Sale’, August 3 2008; and Solzhenitsyn, Lies and Videotape, August 10, 2008). I have attached these columns just to draw your attention to the source of my inspiration for my involvement as a facilitator in the whistle-blowing operation by three BJP MPs—Shri Ashok Argal, Shri Mahavir Baghora and Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste—to expose the ‘Cash-for-Votes’ scandal.

In the fortnight before the trust vote on July 22, it was obvious to every political observer in the national capital that senior leaders of the Congress and Samajwadi Party were trying to lure non-UPA MPs into supporting the UPA Government. At around 11.30 am on July 21, I received a call from Suhail Hindustani, who said, “Bhai Sahab, do something. Over a dozen BJP MPs are being targeted. Huge amounts of money are being offered to get them to switch over.” I have known Suhail, who is also called Raja Hindustani, for many years. He was an activist of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha and, later during the NDA Government, worked closely with Shri Shahnawaz Hussain when he became a Union Minister.

I asked Suhail for the names of the BJP MPs and phoned him back a little later to say that I wanted me (sic) to meet him at the earliest for more details. He told me that he had many reliable contacts in the “market” (where middlemen are involved in wheeling and dealing). I asked him, “Aap ki pahunch kahan tak hain? (How high are your contacts?). He said, “Right up to Ahmed Patelji and Amar Singhji.”

I then asked Suhail, “What is your motive in giving all this information to me?” His reply gladdened me. He told me about his family background — how his grandfather was a staunch nationalist who refused to migrate to Pakistan after Partition and worked as a committed worker of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. “I come from Rajasthan. And I want to be like Maharana Pratap, and not like Man Singh. If I participate in this horse-trading game, I know that I can make a lot of money like any other dalal in the market. But I want to do something good for my country, my qaum and my party.”

I asked Suhail if he would work with a few BJP MPs in a whistle-blowing operation to expose the horse-trading. He agreed enthusiastically.

Later in the evening of July 21, a senior colleague of mine in the BJP informed me that CNN-IBN had agreed to record and telecast the whistle-blowing operation and that Shri Siddharth Gautam, a correspondent with the channel, would soon contact me in this regard. I shortly received a call from Shri Siddharth Gautam and we decided to meet at my temporary residence (17 Balwantrai Mehta Lane).

Shri Argal, Shri Baghora and Shri Kulaste had arrived at my residence. Suhail told me that he was ready to take the MPs to meet Shri Ahmed Patel at the latter’s residence on Willingdon Crescent at 7.30 pm. However, since the CNN-IBN team had not yet arrived, I requested him to get the meeting postponed. He then informed me that he could take the MPs to meet Shri Patel at Le Meridien Hotel at 9.30 pm.

A little after 9.30 pm, Shri Siddharth Gautam, accompanied by his camerman Shri Sudesh arrived at my residence. They fitted hidden cameras behind the shirts worn by Shri Kulaste and Shri Baghora. Thereafter, Suhail took them Le Meridien Hotel. The CNN-IBN team and I tailed them in another car, which was parked outside the hotel. After about 40 minutes, Suhail came out along with the two MPs to say that Shri Patel had already left the hotel.

I then asked Suhail to reach his contacts in the Samajwadi Party.  Meanwhile, I accompanied the two MPs and the CNN-IBN team to go to the residence of Shri Argal at 4 Ferozshah Road. Here I met two more persons from CNN-IBN. One of them introduced himself as Shri Saif Kidwai, a producer with the channel. I do not know the name of the fourth member of the team. Shri Siddharth Gautam and his colleagues fitted hidden video and audio devices in the drawing room in Shri Argal’s house. There was also a listening device in an adjoining room.

Soon after midnight, Suhail brought Shri Reoti Raman Singh to Shri Argal’s house. Our three MPs were closeted with Shri Reoti Raman Singh for about 30 minutes in the drawing room. I sat with the CNN-IBN team in the adjoining room.

After Shri Reoti Raman Singh left, our three MPs told me about the conversation, the gist of which was as follows:

Shri Reoti Raman Singh had offered to take the three BJP MPs to meet Shri Amar Singh at the latter’s residence (27 Lodhi Estate) if they were agreeable to support the UPA Government. He also said that the “amount” to be paid to the MPs for doing so would be decided by Shri Amar Singh himself. The meeting with Shri Amar Singh could not take place that night since it was already too late. However, Shri Reoti Raman Singh said that the meeting could be arranged in the morning.

All of us left Shri Argal’s house at around 3 am and re-assembled at 7 am. About an hour later, in the morning of July 22, Suhail told me that he had telephonically contacted Shri Reoti Raman Singh, who said that Shri Amar Singh was waiting for the MPs at his residence. Accordingly, two MPs—Shri Argal and Shri Kulaste—left for Shri Amar Singh’s house along with Suhail. Shri Baghora could not go with them due to some prior engagement.

I asked Shri Siddharth Gautam if the two MPs or Suhail should go to Shri Amar Singh’s house with hidden cameras. He advised against this, saying it was risky since the SP leader was “well-versed with sting operations”. He told me that he would go ahead with a camera in a separate car to 27 Lodhi Estate to record the entry and exist of the MPs at Shri Amar Singh’s residence.

The two MPs and Suhail returned to Shri Argal’s residence at around 11 am. Sidharth and his colleague Saif also returned separately.

Shri Argal, Shri Kulaste and Suhail told me about the gist of their conversation with Shri Amar Singh:

The SP leader received them warmly and told them that he had already “managed” the support of 275-285 MPs. However, he would pay them, and also Shri Baghora, Rs 3 crore each if they abstained from the trust vote. He asked them to carry with them a token amount of Rs one crore, but the two MPs declined, saying that the money could be sent to Shri Argal’s house through an emissary. The remaining amount of Rs 8 crore, Shri Amar Singh assured them, would be paid to them after the trust vote. He also promised to send the token amount with his assistant within 10-15 minutes. During their meeting, Shri Amar Singh phoned Shri Ahmed Patel and said, “I have three more Kamals (Lotuses) here.” He gave the phone to the two MPs to speak to Shri Patel.

Within about 15 minutes, Suhail came into the adjoining room to inform me that an emissary of Shri Amar Singh, who identified himself as Sanjeev Saxena, had come with a token amount to be handed over to our MPs. He also mentioned that Saxena was accompanied by a young person in yellow shirt with long sleeves, adding that he (Suhail) had seen him both outside Shri Amar Singh’s gate and also inside. According to Suhail, this person, who carried the bag with an amount of Rs. 1 crore, appeared to be a member of Shri Amar Singh’s staff.

The emissary’s conversation with the MPs in the drawing room could be heard in the listening device in the adjoining room. The emissary left after about 20 minutes. It was only after his departure that the CNN-IBN team and I entered the drawing room to see our MPs in an exuberant mood. They showed a bag containing an amount of Rs. 1 crore, in ten bundles of Rs. 10 lakh each.

The CNN-IBN team filmed the serial numbers of the first and the last currency notes in the ten bundles. Shri Siddharth Gautam then interviewed with his regular camera the three MPs in the drawing room, with the amount of Rs. 1 crore displayed on the table. Although I was not in the room when the interview was being conducted, I could watch it by standing outside the door. Once the entire recording was over, the mood in the drawing hall turned celebratory.

The CNN-IBN team thanked the MPs, Suhail and me for our cooperation. We in turn thanked them for doing a highly professional job with commendable enthusiasm. I could make out from the triumphant mood of Shri Siddharth Gautam and his colleagues that they felt that they had achieved the biggest scoop of their careers, which was evident in Shri Siddharth Gautam’s own introduction to the promo that he shot with the bundles of cash and the three MPs in the background. In the intro he said, “For the first time in the history of Indian Parliament, CNN-IBN has captured on camera the proof of horsetrading of MPs…”

Both at night and in the morning, Shri Siddharth Gautam was in regular touch with his seniors in the CNN-IBN headquarters. After consulting with them, he told me that the entire recording would be telecast “within 2-3 hours”. More specifically, he assured that the telecast would start within a few minutes of the MPs displaying the currency notes inside Parliament.

The CNN-IBN team left Shri Argal’s house at around 12.30 pm. I asked Suhail to go Jaipur, his hometown, for a few days. After resting in Shri Argal’s house for some time, I left for Parliament to watch the trust-vote debate.

The information provided in this submission is factual, genuine and authentic. I believe that the truth about this murky scandal, which has lowered the prestige of the Indian Parliament, must be established on the basis of the abundant and irrefutable proof already available, and the guilty must be punished, through an impartial and thorough inquiry.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

Sudheendra Kulkarni

17 Balwantrai Mehta Lane
New Delhi – 110 001

***

Postscript: After a long delay, CNN-IBN telecast the programme on the ‘Cash-for-Votes’ tapes on 11 August 2008. I would like to place on record my observation and belief that the channel has been less than truthful to its own investigation. It has concealed the truth about the involvement Shri Amar Singh and Congress leaders in the scandal by suppressing important sections of the recorded material.

For example, CNN-IBN has showed no clips of the meetings in Le Meridien Hotel, where Suhail had accompanied two BJP MPs to meet Shri Ahmed Patel. I wonder if it has submitted any tapes to the parliamentary committee about the Meridien part of the investigation.

CNN-IBN’s original alibi for not telecasting the tapes was that its investigation was “incomplete”. It is strange that between July 22 and August 11, it never deemed it necessary to contact either me or my colleague Suhail Hindustani for any questions related to further investigation in the matter. Suhail has affirmed this to me.

As submitted earlier in this letter, Suhail had told me that a person in yellow shirt who carried the amount of Rs. 1 crore, and accompanied Sanjeev Saxena to Shri Argal’s house, was also present at Shri Amar Singh’s house. He is clearly seen with Saxena in Shri Argal’s house in the programme telecast by CNN-IBN. He may perhaps be there on the tape submitted to the parliamentary committee, but the channel has not shown his presence near Shri Amar Singh’s house. If the tape actually shows his presence near Shri Amar Singh’s house, then it is an additional and crucial piece of evidence of Shri Amar Singh’s involvement in this scandal. His identity and role must be properly probed.

Also read: Was CNN-IBN right not to air Amar Singh sting?

CNN-IBN clarifies on role in cash-for-votes sting

Arun Jaitley: Channel tunnel vision

What Suhail Hindustani told cash-for-votes panel