Is Hindu nationalism the raison d'être of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or just another vote-catching device? In a private conversation with American diplomats in May 2005, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley articulated the view that Hindu nationalism was an opportunistic issue for the party.
Mr. Jaitley, who is now the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, met with Robert Blake, the Charge at the U.S. Embassy, on May 6, 2005, and provided him and the Political Counsel an insightful exposition on the politics of Hindutva. “Pressed on the question of Hindutva, Jaitley argued that Hindu nationalism ‘will always be a talking point' for the BJP. However, he characterized this as an opportunistic issue,” the Charge wrote in a cable dated May 10, 2005 (32279: confidential).
“In India's northeast, for instance, Hindutva plays well because of public anxiety about illegal migration of Muslims from Bangladesh. With the recent improvement of Indo-Pak relations, he added, Hindu nationalism is now less resonant in New Delhi, but that could change with another cross-border terrorist attack, for instance on the Indian Parliament,” Mr. Blake reported on the interaction with Mr. Jaitley.
On the basis of these remarks on Hindutva made by Mr. Jaitley, the diplomat concluded that his “credentials with the Sangh Parivar are weak, and he may not have what it takes to mobilize the BJP base.”
A “relaxed and self-assured” Mr. Jaitley predicted that L.K. Advani would lead the party for another two to three years, “after which one of five next generation leaders (Jaitley among them) would take the reins.”
On the issue of revocation of the visa of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Jaitley complained that he could not understand how the United States could take such an action against the party that began the transformation of U.S.-India relations.
When Mr. Blake explained the “rationale and legal basis” for the U.S. decision, “Jaitley agreed with the Charge's point that Modi was a polarizing personality, but argued that it would have been better for the US to let the Chief Minister visit the US, where he would have attracted a few demonstrators and then nothing more would be said.”
The Modi issue aside, the BJP leader was upbeat on U.S.-India relations, “emphasizing that ties with the U.S. were no longer a point of controversy in Indian politics.” Citing his own situation as typical, “Jaitley noted that he has several nieces and sisters living in the U.S., and ‘five homes to visit between DC and New York.'”
In private, Mr. Jaitley appeared more willing to give credit to his political rivals where due. “Putting on his hat as a former Commerce Minister, Jaitley confessed that the BJP's opposition to a Value Added Tax (VAT) at the state level was based on a narrow political calculus, and predicted that the BJP states would adopt the VAT soon in order to protect their revenue streams. He gave the Congress government generally positive marks for its handling of economic policy issues, but focused on the contradictions inherent in the UPA coalition.”
In response to the “Charge's pitch for opening of the Indian services sector,” Mr. Jaitley, a Senior Advocate, agreed that legal services should be opened to foreign competition, “noting that the performance of the Indian bar has begun to improve, even though the quality of judges suffers from a ‘Gandhian' mindset that leads to unreasonably low salaries.” On the retail sector, Mr. Jaitley “argued that foreign competition should not seriously hurt the mom and pop stores that form a BJP constituency.”
In a concluding comment, the Charge wrote: “Although visibly pained by the Modi visa revocation, Jaitley was gracious and open throughout. He clearly values his personal and commercial connections to the US (several US corporates are legal clients). As the competition for BJP leadership heats up, Jaitley will enjoy the advantages of a telegenic personality and strong ties to the New Delhi establishment.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via WikiLeaks.)