64917 5/22/2006 1:15:00 PM 06NEWDELHI3548 Embassy New Delhi CONFIDENTIAL 06NEWDELHI1818 | 06NEWDELHI1953 | 06NEWDELHI2291 | 06NEWDELHI2446 | 06NEWDELHI2915 | 06NEWDELHI3117 | 06NEWDELHI3307 VZCZCXRO2771OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHPW RUEHROVDE RUEHNE #3548/01 1421315ZNY CCCCC ZZHO 221315Z MAY 06FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4182INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2154RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 5445RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 5460RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8447RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6126RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8510RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 1191RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3341RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0001RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 4021RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 3934RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 4015RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 2646RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 3193RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 3302RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDCRUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DCRHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HIRUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0859RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FLRUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3134RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HIRHMFISS/HQ USSOCOM MACDILL AFB FLRUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 003548

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/22/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, KIRF, KDEM, SCUL, IN

SUBJECT: RAJASTHAN GOVERNOR REFUSES TO SIGN ANTI-CONVERSION BILL

REF: A. NEW DELHI 1818 B. NEW DELHI 1953 C. NEW DELHI 2291 D. NEW DELHI 2446 E. NEW DELHI 2915 F. NEW DELHI 3117 G. NEW DELHI 03307

Classified By: PolCouns Geoff Pyatt for reasons 1.4 (B,D)

1. (C) Summary: On May 19, Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil unexpectedly refused to sign Rajasthan's controversial anti-conversion bill (Ref C), instead sending it back to the state cabinet based on concerns that it is unconstitutional. The cabinet must now present arguments to the Governor that would substantiate the Bill's constitutionality. The Governor can then decide whether to sign the bill or again reject it and forward it to President APJ Abdul Kalam. When the President is sent a bill for consideration, he has three options; approving the bill (making it law), rejecting the bill or sending it back to the Governor with recommendations. Our interlocutors predicted that a referral to Kalam is all but inevitable in this case as the Bill is inherently flawed. Most handicappers are predicting that should this Bill reach the President's desk, he will also reject it and return it to the state legislature for another debate.

2. (C) Secular leaders praised Patil's action, characterizing it as "a triumph of the democratic and secular values enshrined in our constitution." BJP and VHP hard-liners pointed out that other states had successfully passed similar legislation, complained that the Governor's move was unconstitutional, and vowed to press the bill forward. Rajasthan Law Minister Ghanshyam Tiwari, considered an RSS hard-liner, told us on May 22 that the Governor's decision resulted from a power struggle in the Rajasthan BJP. The Rajasthan events have attracted international attention, with the Pope on May 18 characterizing the Bill as a "disturbing" development. The GOI response was measured and mild, while Hindu nationalists have, so far, kept their silence. End Summary.

Governor Refuses to Sign Anti-Conversion Bill

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3. (SBU) In a welcome surprise move, Rajasthan Governor Patil decided against signing the Rajasthan anti-conversion bill, instead returning it to the state cabinet with a recommendation that it be sent to President Kalam, based on the judgment that parts of the bill may be unconstitutional. The cabinet must submit arguments back to the Governor explaining why the bill is constitutional and does not need a Presidential review. If the bill does go to Kalam, the President will have three options:

-- Assent to the bill, which would automatically make it law,

-- Reject the bill,

-- Refer it back to the Governor with recommendations requiring further debate and another vote in the State Assembly. The President would then again review the law and decide whether or not to approve.

4. (C) Our Rajasthan-based media contacts predicted that the bill will be referred to President Kalam, who will choose to

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send it back to the State Assembly. All India Catholic Council (AICC) Secretary General John Dayal argued on May 22 that the rejected bill will likely see much debate in the State Assembly, with its eventual passage still "up in the air."

Secular India Cheers Decision...

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5. (U) Dayal's M`y 19 letter to Calam, that was also published in the press, called Governor Patil's decision "a triumph of the democratic and secular values enshrined in our Constitution." Rajasthan Christian Fellowship Chairman Father Coelho called Patil's move a "bold step."

... But Hindutva Elements Vow to Press On

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6. (U) The press reported on May 22 that radical BJP and VHP members vowed to continue the push for anti-conversion legislation in Rajasthan and other states. Tiwari told us on May 22 that he and other RSS members were very upset with the Governor, that her decision to send the bill to the President was unconstitutional and that she was obliged "to sign the bill passed by the legislative assembly." (Note: Other interlocutors asserted that the Governor's action was constitutional. End Note.) Tiwari reaffirmed his support for the bill and promised a second attempt to get it through the State Assembly.

Battle for Power in the Rajasthan BJP

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7. (C) Tiwari suggested to us on May 22 that the battle over the anti-conversion law is an outgrowth of an internal feud brewing in the state BJP. He noted that Chief Minister Raje's opposition to the anti-conversion bill has become a major point of contention between her and hard-line members of her party. Our interlocutors opined that Raje would prefer that the President reject the bill, thus giving her a "face saving way out." She could claim to the hard-liners that she successfully got the bill through the legislature and blame the Governor and President for the its death, Tiwari remarked.

Repercussions in Rome

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8. (SBU) While accepting the credentials of the new Indian Ambassador to the Vatican on May 18, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to "the disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the (Indian) nation, including the reprehensible attempts to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom." The Pope urged the GOI firmly to reject such legislation "not only as unconstitutional, but also as contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers. In its low-key response, the GOI pointed out that India is "acknowledged universally as a secular and democratic country in which adherents of all religious faiths enjoy equal rights." The Hindutva proponents of the RSS and BJP have so far remained silent regarding the Pope's remarks.

Comment: Constitutional Controls Check Radical Hindutva

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9. (C) The checks and balances built into the Indian Constitution have so far successfully blunted this piece of anti-conversion legislation. This episode demonstrates that an active civil society, even when representing a tiny percentage of the population (Christians make up just over one tenth of one percent of Rajasthan's population), can influence policy. The GOI's mild reaction to the Pope's remarks reflects the sensitivity of the current UPA "secular" government to religious minorities and their concerns. The rejection of the legislation, coupled with the Pope's remarks, has dealt a major setback to the Hindutva wing of the BJP. We expect that it will take time for the Hindu zealots to marshall their forces and mount a counteroffensive. We will continue to follow the case closely, making USG opposition restrictions on religious freedoms clearly known.

10. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)

MULFORD