by Chidanand Rajghatta
WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI: India's political princeling and Congress Party heir apparent Rahul Gandhi feels that the "the bigger threat (to India) may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community," according to a cable by U.S ambassador to India Timothy Roemer which was released by Wikileaks on Thursday.
The August 3, 2009 cable records Roemer's observations from a "candid conversation" he had with Rahul Gandhi at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier. Roemer reports Gandhi as saying, in response to his query about Lashkar-e-Taiba's activities in the region and immediate threat to India, that "there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community." However, 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.
In an addendum while citing the young Indian leader, Roemer comments that he (Rahul Gandhi) "was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi."
While comments from Congress Party leaders about internal threats from radical Hindu groups are not new, the fact that Gandhi expressed his views to U.S interlocutors is certain to spark a political firestorm in India in what is already a season of confrontation. The reported remarks add to the already controversial statements from Congress Party general secretary Digvijay Singh pointing to dangers from Hindu extremist groups.
The candid disclosures to Americans of such critical observations about internal security also comes at a time when Pakistan continues its defense of terrorism as a state policy, articulated most recently by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who suggested that there will not be any roll-back of the policy unless the Kashmir issue is settled.
The young Indian leader displays no inhibitions in describing the dangers from majority communalism, in a wide-ranging conversation seated next to Roemer at the dinner. The U.S envoy reports that Gandhi "expressed concerns regarding the challenges surrounding the UPA coalition's ability to implement its programs, and speculated about radicalization among Hindus and Muslims."
In a separate cable describing a meeting between India's National Security Adviser M.K.Narayanan and FBI Director Robert Mueller, a US official reports the former as describing ''a changing trend in terrorists being recruited to jihad, saying that while in the past Kashmiri terrorist recruits were vulnerable because they were economically disadvantaged, any of today's terrorists were professionals who came from well-to-do backgrounds.''
India, with its vast Muslim community living side-by-side with Hindus, was having difficulty identifying the sources of radicalization, Narayanan is cited as explaining, adding that even Muslim leaders were confessing they were "losing control of their flock."
The cable also attributes Narayan as saying ''India is also seeing the beginnings of Hindu extremist groups that use violence,'' agreeing, the cable says, with the Director Mueller's point that terrorists come from more than just Muslim backgrounds.
In a conversation in which Roemer says Rahul Gandhi shared his views on a range of political topics, social challenges, and electoral issues for the Congress Party in the next five years, the U.S envoy cites the young Indian leader as saying the UPA government's "honeymoon period" had been short and he now expected the BJP and Left Parties would be unrelenting critics of the government's program.
"His focus in the upcoming months would be on state assembly elections in Maharashtra and party building efforts at the local level," Roemer reports, adding, "He was busy trying to recruit more appealing candidates to run for Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) positions nationwide."
Gandhi's focus, Roemer says, 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. Roemer also records that he did not seem to be as focused on electoral efforts in bigger cities, such as Delhi and Mumbai.