U.S. Embassy cables reflect family insider's ‘brutally frank' assessment

After Rahul Gandhi, “the heir-apparent of the Gandhi family dynasty,” made a series of political gaffes in 2007, party insiders were waiting for the entry of his sister Priyanka Gandhi into politics, according to an assessment by the United States Embassy in New Delhi.

In a cable sent on April 23, 2007, Charge d'Affaires Geoffrey Pyatt (105346: confidential) said: “Congress insiders complain that he (Rahul Gandhi) is a neophyte who does not have what it takes to become Prime Minister. Their hopes have now shifted to yet another member of the Nehru dynasty, Rahul's sister Priyanka, as they await her entry into politics.”

Making specific references to statements Mr. Gandhi made during a series of ‘road shows' as part of the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the cable said the gaffes suggested an “uneven start” to his active political career. On April 15, in a speech at a campaign rally, he had said: “I belong to the family which has never moved backwards, which has never gone back on its words. You know that when any member of my family had decided to do anything, he does it. Be it the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India into the 21st Century.”

Prior to this, he had stated that the Babri Masjid “would have been protected had a member of the Gandhi family been in power.” At another rally, he had said the Congress's “slide into the political wilderness in UP” started with its 1996 alliance with Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party.

The cable reported an April 18 discussion with “Congress leader and Gandhi family insider” Nachiketa Kapur. Readers will recall that Mr. Kapur figured in the now famous cable dated July 17, 2008 (162458: secret) published by The Hindu on March 17. The cable reported on “two chests containing cash” Mr. Kapur (who was described as Satish Sharma's “political aide”) showed a U.S. Embassy employee, adding that these were part of “around Rupees 50-60 crore…lying around the house for use as pay-offs” to MPs in the July 22, 2008 confidence vote.

Frank views

In a breezy section headlined ‘The Dynasty Dying Nasty,' the cable said: “Kapoor [Kapur] was adamant that Rahul's elliptical statements were spontaneous and off the cuff. Rahul's speechwriter has reportedly confirmed that the remarks were unscripted and that Rahul refuses to use remarks drafted for him. Opining that Rahul is ‘out of touch,' Kapoor noted that he has ‘no close friends or advisors,' and that his own staff keeps him ‘at arm's length' as he is ‘arrogant and rude and doesn't accept guidance from anyone.' Kapoor exclaimed that Rahul ‘has no future, no talent for politics and will never be PM, as he has done nothing for the past three years.' Kapoor pointed out that even if Congress wanted to make Rahul PM, it would not be able to do so, as it does not have an absolute majority and must rely on its coalition partners to stay in power. Implying that Rahul's moment has already come and gone, Kapoor claimed that Congress insiders are predictably pinning their hopes on yet another of Nehru Dynasty member, Rahul's sister Priyanka, and are waiting for the day when she will enter politics.”

The Comment section of the cable, cattily titled ‘Son Set,' expressed this view: “In any event, regardless of the outcome of the UP elections, Rahul has made an uneven entry into active politics. While crowds at his “road show” events are often large, Rahul has not yet demonstrated that he has the charisma required to make it in Indian politics.”

In an earlier cable dated October 17, 2006 (82135: confidential), Mr. Pyatt said: “Heir apparent Rahul Gandhi continues to languish with little popular support, but we are told that his mother remains determined to install him as PM at the ‘appropriate' time.”

In an October 11, 2006 meeting, “Sonia Gandhi confidant” Rashid Alvi insisted that “despite his lack of public appeal and political skills,” Mrs Gandhi will install her son as Prime Minister. “Alvi pointed out that Rahul's ascension to the Gandhi family seat is not imminent, as it will ‘take time' for him to be made ready, but there is no doubt that the party's fortunes are inextricably tied to the young man's presumed strengths and unexplored weaknesses.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via WikiLeaks.)