By Ashish Khetan
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For two years, the nation has believed that the Congress and its ally, the Samajwadi Party drove the nuclear vote through successfully, based on sordid horse-trading and the buying of votes.
While this may still be true, the only empirical evidence of this horse-trading was the 2008 CNN-IBN cash-for-vote sting.
In a shocking discovery, Tehelka has now found that as far as the cash-for-votes sting operation is concerned, it was not the Congress, or indeed even the Samajwadi Party, that was actively looking for MPs to buy in this particular scandal. In fact, the shoe was on the other foot. It was the BJP that had willfully set out to entrap either the Congress or the SP into buying three BJP MPs so it could pull off a successful sting operation and discredit the government. Disturbingly, this sting operation appears to have had the sanction and collusion of respected BJP leaders like Sudheendra Kulkarni, Arun Jaitley and even LK Advani.
Tehelka’s story is based on three crucial pieces of evidence: the first hand-account of the CNN-IBN reporter Siddharth Gautam, who actually did the sting on the ground. His account of the truth has been revealed for the first time.
The story also rests on 10 crucial phone recordings that have never been shared in the public domain and were not even made available to the parliamentary panel set up to probe the scandal. These phone recordings, now in Tehelka’s possession, display BJP MP Argal frantically calling people and shopping for someone to buy him and the other two BJP MPs on the night of 21 July 2008, the eve of the nuclear vote. The intention was to somehow pull off a sting operation that could discredit the UPA government.
Tehelka’s story also rests on the parliamentary panel report, now accessed by Tehelka. This report is full of contradictory accounts which prove that every player in the scandal resorted either to blatant lies or at least half-truths.
The story does not exonerate the Samajwadi Party, which did fall for the BJP’s entrapment and agree to buy its three BJP MPs.
For two years there has been a rumour that powerful Congress leader Ahmad Patel was somehow involved in the horse-trading. While the story shows that there is absolutely no credible evidence to support this, or even that anyone from the Congress per se was shopping for MPs to cross-over—at least in this particular case—the story still does not exonerate the Congress. It demonstrates that the parliamentary panel headed by Congress MP KC Deo and the Delhi Police did little to collate the evidence and nail the accused.
Finally, the story also looks at the ambiguous role played by the television channel, which according to CNN-IBN reporter Gautam, held back some crucial pieces of footage and skewed its own story and the version the reporter was allowed to put out in the public domain.
Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations, with Tehelka