New York, March 31: “I have no interest in Indian politics,” said high-profile Indian American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal as he again denied a purported WikiLeaks report suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was trying to win Akali Dal support during the 2008 trust vote through him.
“I have no interest in Indian politics because I live in this country and spend most of my time here,” said Chatwal.
The purported WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy said that Captain Satish Sharma “considered to be a very close family friend of Sonia Gandhi” told the US political counsellor that the Congress party was working hard to ensure that the UPA government wins the July 22 confidence vote on the India-US nuclear deal.
“Sharma said 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,” according to the leaked cable.
Chatwal said he worked day and night to get the landmark India-US nuclear deal approved by the US Congress, but played no role for its passage in India.
“India is my passion. My heart is there” and “this deal is fantastic for India and fantastic for America”, Chatwal, who is known to be close to the Clintons, told IANS in an interview in his Manhattan office.
“So I had to work hard. I had to be in Washington every week and put up my day and night” on the job, he said.
Because he knew members of the US Congress, Manmohan Singh asked him to work on that with planning and a proper strategy to get the deal done in the face of lobbying by China, Pakistan and “our enemies” against the pact, Chatwal said.
Initially “Hillary Clinton was not helping as she thought it could be a political issue as she was planning a presidential run,” he said.
“But when I put the whole package together, she also came on board.”
“That’s how it started on May 17, 2006,” when he hosted a Congressional reception in support of the deal under the aegis of the US-India Friendship Council, Chatwal said recalling that as many as 18 senators and 60 members of the House attended.
After intense lobbying when the deal was finally approved by the US Congress, Chatwal received a letter of appreciation from Manmohan Singh in November 2008 congratulating him “for the important contribution you have made in bringing the two countries together”.
The Padma Bhushan award followed.
Manmohan Singh was “the only one who knew how hard I worked, spending a lot of time and money”, he said proffering a copy of the letter from the Indian prime minister.
“In politics nothing comes free. You have to write cheques in the American political system,” Chatwal said. “I know the system. I had to work very hard. So I did as much as I could.”
“I was interested in building a relationship between India and America,” he said. For that he cultivated US Congress members and “I invested a lot of money in” Michael Dukakis, Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. “But he lost the election because he failed in the debate.”
“Then I thought, let me bet on (Bill) Clinton,” Chatwal said recalling how he went to meet the then Arkansas governor before the 1992 primaries when “nobody looked at Clinton and realised his potential”.
Chatwal said he had been making efforts to build US-India relations since 1979. “But real break I got with President Clinton, whom I helped before he became president.”
“I bet on him. He became president. Already we were good friends like a family,” he said. “And really he (Clinton) was the one who opened the door for India.”
“Clinton said ‘what do you want? I said ‘I want to build relations between India and America. He said, ‘That’s it. I thought you were looking for a position in the White House’.”
“No, I am not. I am a businessman. I don’t want any political position. So he promised” to help build US-India relations, Chatwal recalled.
But “Indian politics, I have no interest,” he said.
“Whether it’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or Samajwadi Party” he had helped them all in reaching out to Clinton, Chatwal said, suggesting that Clinton had invited then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his behest.
“Our relationship is with India”. Be it BJP or United Progressive Alliance, he had looked after leaders of all partes, Chatwal said.
But “I have nothing to do with any political party. I don’t want to get involved in Indian politics. No sense in that.”