Minister of Railways and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad assured U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford that he supported the nuclear deal, at a December 2007 meeting that even the seasoned diplomat described as “an unforgettable experience.”
Mr. Prasad, “on his best behaviour,” ensured that “a sizeable fraction of Rail Bhavan's 1.4 million workers” catered to the U.S. delegation's hospitality needs during the 30-minute meeting, Mr. Mulford cabled Washington on December 11, 2007 (133766, confidential).
Significantly for the U.S., Mr. Lalu Prasad assured the Ambassador that he understood the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement and that he and his party members were “trying to convince everyone that there is nothing to fear.”
Mr. Prasad warned Mr. Mulford that meetings with the BJP on the deal had led people to question U.S. motives.
Further, “[Lalu Prasad] Yadav derided the BJP's assertion that it will renegotiate the deal if it comes back to power. ‘Double-speak won't get them power,' he said.”
Mr. Prasad's limit, Mr. Mulford clearly saw, was “his party's precarious position in the state of Bihar.”
Mr. Prasad's support for the deal, he said, “stops if the downfall of the government comes into play. The conventional wisdom here suggests Lalu's first priority is to see the UPA secure a full term — with all the opportunities for patronage that represents.”
According to Mr. Mulford, “[Lalu Prasad] Yadav observed…[that] the Left still had questions. ‘We are in favor of convincing everyone,' he underlined.” Mr. Prasad added that he personally had good relations with the Left.
Mr. Prasad's concern for the Left and his stated aim for consensus revealed to the U.S. “the pressure that the allies may have exerted on the UPA government to mitigate the chances of the Left from withdrawing from power,” Mr. Mulford wrote. “No party wants elections,” the Ambassador quoted him as saying.
Mr. Mulford commended Mr. Prasad for his work on Indian Railways and dangled the possibility of two U.S. firms building a diesel locomotive factory in Bihar. Mr. Lalu Prasad replied that the eastern rail corridor would have electric traction thanks to Japanese assistance, but the western corridor would have diesel traction.
Mr. Prasad, Mr. Mulford wrote, “one of the most savvy, colorful, grassroots politicians in India,” was “not the spontaneous, funny, earthy, rustic Lalu Indians know and love, prompting our senior FSN [foreign service national] to comment that the MEA must have scared him silly prior to his meeting the Ambassador.”
He was attended by four key MPs of his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and a senior railway bureaucrat, “who greatly amplified the Minister's thoughts as expressed in workable, heavily accented English.”
Nevertheless, “Lalu was a gracious and perfect host,” Mr. Mulford concluded, “It was an unforgettable experience.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)