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Radical Hindu Groups Major Threat To India, Rahul Told Roemer

PTI 17 Dec 2010, 17:35:05 IST
Washington, Dec 17: In controversial comments, Congress general secretary  Rahul Gandhi has told US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer that growth of "radicalised Hindu groups" posed a bigger threat to the country than militant groups like LeT, according to a leaked American diplomatic cable.

Rahul during a conversation with the envoy at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence in July 2009 in honour of visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also referred to the tensions created by some of the more polarising figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the cable said.

According to a secret US diplomatic cable from New Delhi released by WikiLeaks, the Congress leader shared his views with Roemer on a range of political topics, social challenges, and electoral issues for the Congress party in the next five years.

"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," the cable notes.

"However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community," it said.

The cable dated August 3, 2009 which described Roemer's luncheon encounter with Gandhi on July 20, 2009, said Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarising 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," it said.

The cable signed off by Roemer says that Gandhi, who was seated next to the Ambassador, was forthright in describing the challenges faced by the Congress party and the UPA government in the months ahead.

When contacted in New Delhi, the US Embassy offered no comments on the WikiLeaks contents.

The United States, which has accused WikiLeaks of stealing its secret cables, has refused to either deny or confirm the authenticity of these cables.

According to the cable, Roemer said, "Over the past four years, he (Rahul) 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".

Roemer spoke about the need to reach out to the young leaders of the country.

"We will seek other opportunities to engage with him and with other promising young members of the new generation of parliamentarians," he was quoted as having said.

"Gandhi mentioned that in the recent election 60 members of the new Parliament were 45 or younger," according to the cable.

"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," Roemer said.

This particular cable is one of about 3,038 US diplomatic cables sent from Delhi and leaked by the whistle-blower website.

WikiLeaks is releasing a quarter million secret US documents and 5,087 records amongst these refer to India.

Another cable from the US embassy in New Delhi in February this year cited Rahul's move to take on Shiv Sena's "xenophobic agenda," and said the young Congress leader appears to be becoming increasingly sure-footed in his political instincts.

This secret cable is dated February 22, 2010 and is a diary of the political events in the country from January 30 to February 19.

The document said Gandhi's blunt words against the "Maharashtra chauvinist" party, followed by his visit to Mumbai that came with a local train ride was a public relations bonanza for him.

"Rahul Gandhi's Mumbai visit and his skirmishing with the Maharashtra chauvinist Shiv Sena party shows he is becoming increasingly sure-footed in his political instincts," said the cable.

"He (Gandhi) first hurled some blunt words at the Thackerays and Shiv Sena's xenophobic agenda. These were widely and sympathetically reported around the country.

"He then took it a step further when the Shiv Sena issued 'Keep Off Maharashtra' threats by going to the Thackerays' home ground of Mumbai, where he continued to take shots at them," the cable says referring to the political events of those days.

The cable said Rahul topped it off by showing the common touch when he made a last minute change in his itinerary to travel across town in a second-class train compartment.

The document noted that Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray responded by launching an attack on Rahul Gandhi's "Italian Mummy," referring to UPA chief Sonia Gandhi.

In late 2007, US diplomats had described Gandhi as "widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a lightweight".

"To do so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina," it said.

"He will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics," a diplomat reportedly said in a cable entitled 'The son also rises: Rahul  Gandhi takes another step towards top job'.

Other US cables talk of Gandhi's political inexperience and repeated gaffes. They also repeat cutting criticism from political analysts and journalists.

However, the cables reportedly reveal that as Gandhi warmed to the US, the US warmed to him.

In a meeting with another American official last summer, he explained his strategy of targeting rural populations and small towns, impressing his interlocutor.

"(Gandhi) came off as a practiced politician who knew how to get his message across, was precise and articulate and demonstrated a mastery that belied the image some have of (him) as a dilettante," the official said.

In November last year, after a meeting with the US ambassador, a cable to Washington described Gandhi as "an elusive contact in the past" but now "clearly interested in reaching out to the USG (United States government)".

A cable from February this year describes him as "increasingly sure-footed".

For Roemer, writing after the lunch during which Gandhi had commented on extremism, "the rising profile of young leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides (the USA with) an opening to expand the constituency in support of the strategic partnership with a long term horizon".

RSS today slammed Rahul Gandhi for his "shocking" remarks against Hindu groups, saying there was a "race" in the senior Congress leadership to project Hindus as terrorists.

"It is shocking that there is a race in the seniorCongress leadership to indirectly or directly support jehadi terror and to project Hindus as terrorists in this country, that too in gross violation of established diplomatic norms and procedures," senior RSS leader Ram Madhav said.

"Going to a foreign ambassador and talking with him about India's international issues is most shocking. It only betrays utter lack of knowledge of Indian reality as well as lack of knowledge of government diplomatic practices in a person who aspires to be whatever in this country tomorrow,"Madhav said.

He alleged that Gandhi was making "wild charges"against Hindus."There is no secret now about Congress' politics of religion," he said.PTI