Saturday, December 18, 2010
An elusive contact becomes a key interlocutor for Americans!
Contrary to media reports and popular perception, the ‘secret’ cable despatched from the US Embassy in New Delhi on August 3, 2009 was not only about Mr Rahul Gandhi’s views on Hindu terror. A close reading of the cable, marked for the State Department and signed by US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer, would show that it was a report on efforts by the American mission aimed at “reaching out to Rahul Gandhi and other young parliamentarians”. The cable’s summary says: “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.” The key words, lest you miss them, are “reaching out”, “career and potential”, “heir apparent”, “appreciatively” and “future”. The man who represents American interests in India was keen on establishing ‘contact’ with the second most important person in the current, US-friendly dispensation in New Delhi; and it’s a hurrah! note to headquarters from him after having established that contact. As Mr Roemer highlights in his cable, “(Rahul) Gandhi… could become a key interlocutor… as we pursue a strategic dialogue with India.” Diplomats know who matters how much in which regime and which ‘key interlocutor’ can help push their country’s agenda. In this case, the agenda of the US, as it would like to see implemented in its newly discovered outpost in South Asia.
The cable mentions that Mr Roemer met Mr Gandhi at a lunch hosted by the Prime Minister “in honour of the Secretary” — his reference is to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Among the invitees was Indian Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, as well as other prominent figures from politics, business and civil society.” But notwithstanding their ‘prominence’, these worthies do not merit mention by name in the cable. Mr Gandhi does — he “was seated next to the Ambassador” and “shared his views on a range of political topics, social challenges and electoral issues for the Congress in the next five years”. Since the discussion took place three months after the UPA won a second term in office, we can assume that Mr Gandhi had by then worked out everything for the Congress till 2014; he had charted the course for the party, so to say, to a third, and spectacular, victory in a row, thus enabling his transition from heir apparent to ruler.
[Massacre at CST: Mumbai's -- and India's -- night of terror, November 26, 2008, when Pakistani LeT terrorists launched multiple attacks on the city.]
In between pointing out that the Congress, or the UPA if you wish, had a rather short honeymoon in its second term and detailing his plans to “find younger party members who would not carry some of the baggage of older Congress candidates” to contest and win elections, he commented on “the tensions created by some of the more polarising figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi” (these words have been used by Mr Roemer, we can’t be sure whether Mr Gandhi used them in his conversation). It is in this context that Mr Roemer asked Mr Gandhi about the “Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India”. It would be in order to mention here that another US Embassy cable mentions that the LeT’s threat to India is real, has not diminished since 26/11 and the Pakistan-based group is planning high profile strikes, including a plot to assassinate Mr Narendra Modi.
We can only speculate on whether Mr Roemer’s query was in the context of that cable or he was subtly provoking a political response to a security issue to gauge any shift in the Government’s policy. It would be absurd to believe that the American Ambassador was unaware of hostilities between the Congress Dynasty and the Congress Destroyer in Gujarat. Be that as it may, Mr Gandhi’s response provides a glimpse into the intellectual abilities of the Prince who would be King one day. “(Rahul) 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 radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community… 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.” (The emphasis is that of Mr Roemer’s and not this writer’s.)
[The two-year-old girl who was injured in the Varanasi ghat bombing by Indian Mujahideen on December 7, 2010. She lost the battle to stay alive.]
The US Ambassador’s conclusion, based on the lunch table conversation, tells its own story: “Over the last 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…” It’s natural that there should be some amount of concern in Washington, DC about policy after the Regent vacates the masnad of Delhi for the Prince. If there’s one thing the American establishment is mindful of, it is that continuity is of the essence to promote and push national interest in foreign lands; regime change can have disastrous consequences. As for what the US mission really (emphasis added by this writer) thinks of Mr Gandhi, readers should look up the ‘secret’ cable tagged ‘Delhi Diary, January 30-February 19, 2010’, in which “A US diplomat romps through three weeks of Indian politics, from the chauvinism of the Shiv Sena to a new law allowing gay couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day.”
In keeping with the style of the cables that have been ‘leaked’ into the public domain, here’s a summary: Outrage over Mr Gandhi’s frivolous analysis of the internal security scenario of India and his ill-informed commentary on terrorism is fine, but only up to a point. What is of greater import is the ease with which the proverbial ‘Quiet American’ can co-opt those who desire to rule India through “a thoughtful, politically sensitive and strategic approach”. Somewhere out there, Mrs Indira Gandhi’s soul would be most distressed following the disclosure of this particular cable, but then, when alive she carried the “baggage of older Congress candidates” as her grandson disparagingly describes those who have served the party (and presumably the country) for decades.
[This appears as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on December 19, 2010.]