WikiLeaks cables: Rahul Gandhi warned US of Hindu extremist threat
Monday, 03 August 2009, 14:29
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 001624
EO 12958 DECL: 08/03/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, IN
SUBJECT: REACHING OUT TO RAHUL GANDHI AND OTHER YOUNG
REF: SECTO 0008
Classified By: AMB Timothy J. Roemer. Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
- In a review of the career and potential of Rahul Gandhi, 40-year old heir apparent to the leadership of India’s ruling Congress party, the US ambassador reports conversations with the young politician, speaking appreciatively of recent statements and potential for the future. Key passages highlighted in yellow.
1. (C) Summary: In a candid conversation with the Ambassador during the July 20 lunch hosted by Prime Minister Singh for the Secretary, Indian Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi described his focus on upcoming state and local elections, expressed concerns regarding the challenges surrounding the UPA coalition’s ability to implement its programs, and speculated about radicalization among Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was interested in engaging with the Ambassador and could become a key interlocutor, along with other young members of Parliament, as we pursue a Strategic Dialogue with India. End Summary.
2. (C) During the Secretary’s July 20 meetings in New Delhi (see reftel), Prime Minister Singh hosted a lunch in honor of the Secretary. Among the invitees was Indian Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, as well as other prominent figures from politics, business and civil society. Gandhi, who was seated next to the Ambassador, shared his views on a range of political topics, social challenges, and electoral issues for the Congress Party in the next five years.
3. (C) Gandhi stressed that his focus in the upcoming months would be on state assembly elections in Maharashtra and party building efforts at the local level. He was busy trying to recruit more appealing candidates to run for Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) positions nationwide. Gandhi’s focus was on finding younger party members who would not carry some of the baggage of older Congress candidates. He aimed at rebuilding party structures in small towns and rural areas to attract voters and believed the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was vulnerable there. He did not seem to be as focused on electoral efforts in bigger cities, such as Delhi and Mumbai.
Honeymoon is Over
4. (C) Noting that the Congress Party victory in this past spring’s parliamentary elections had put the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in a comfortable position, Gandhi still expressed concerns about the numerous challenges regarding the UPA’s ability to implement its programs in Parliament. He said that the honeymoon period had been short and he now expected the BJP and Left Parties would be unrelenting critics of the government’s program. Speaking while the budget session of Parliament was ongoing, Gandhi touched on the difficulties in keeping the UPA coalition on the right track. (Note: This conversation took place before the full scope of opposition to the July 16 Indo-Pakistani joint statement in Sharm el Sheikh had become apparent. End Note.)
5. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s query about Lashkar-e-Taiba’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community. However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community. (Comment: Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.) The risk of a “home-grown” extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India, was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention.
6. (C) Gandhi was forthright in describing the challenges faced by the Congress Party and the UPA government in the months ahead. Over the past four years, he was an elusive contact, but he could be interested in reaching out to the United States, given a thoughtful, politically sensitive and strategic approach on our part. We will seek other opportunities to engage with him and with other promising
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young members of the new generation of parliamentarians. Gandhi mentioned that in the recent election 60 members of the new Parliament were 45 or younger. In a system long viewed as relatively static, the influx of new faces and the rising profile of young leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides us an opening to expand the constituency in support of the strategic partnership with a long term horizon.