The Congress scrambled on Friday to provide explanations for a statement attributed to Rahul Gandhi, the party's heir apparent, in a U.S. diplomatic cable, suggesting that he considers the possibility of Hindu radical groups springing up in reaction to the Lashkar-e-Taiba more dangerous for the country than some support for the LeT from a section of Indian Muslims.
Coming as the leak did on the eve of the party's 83rd plenary session, Congress party managers, concerned that the WikiLeaks about Mr. Gandhi would overshadow the party's three-day-long deliberations, sought first to rubbish the statement, even describing it as a “conspiracy” and questioning its veracity. Next, it attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “politicising” the issue. Eventually, the party decided to issue a statement in the young general secretary's name, hoping that this would lay the controversy to rest.
“Shri Rahul Gandhi's view is that,” a statement issued by party media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi said, “terrorism and communalism of all types is a threat to India.” It then stresses: “We need to remain vigilant against acts of terrorism of all kinds, no matter who commits them.”
The cable that has thrust Mr. Gandhi into a political storm refers to a conversation he had with U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer on July 20, 2009, at a luncheon party hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The passage in question says that while responding to the Ambassador's query about Lashkar-e-Taiba's activities in India, Mr. Gandhi said there was “evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community.” The cable then went on to say, “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. 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 passage also comments that Mr. Gandhi was “referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”
Interestingly, the cable makes it clear that Mr. Gandhi is comparing Hindu radical groups coming up in reaction to the LeT's activities with a section of Indian Muslims for the LeT. The impression that the Congress general secretary said Hindu terror groups are more dangerous than the LeT was created in political circles by The Guardian's telegraphic headline, which summarised his more nuanced argument as “Ambassador warned that Hindu radical groups may pose bigger threat than LeT in India.”
Meanwhile, another cable — ‘a compilation of political highlights from Embassy New Delhi for January 30-February 19, 2010' — speaks approvingly of Mr. Gandhi's “skirmishes” with the Shiv Sena. “Rahul Gandhi's Mumbai visit and his skirmishing with the Maharashtra chauvinist Shiv Sena … shows he is becoming increasingly sure-footed in his political instincts. He 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 Thackeray's home ground of Mumbai, where he continued to take shots at them. He 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. All in all, a public relations bonanza for Rahul.”