Unites States embassy officials in New Delhi described as “crass political opportunism” the statements made by senior Congress party leaders such as Digvijay Singh and A.R. Antulay, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008.
The comments were revealed this week by WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website, which is publishing thousands of private diplomatic cables that it obtained from the U.S. State Department.
The cable in question, which contained a candid and sharply critical review of Congress party politics following the Mumbai attacks, was authored by the U.S. embassy on December 23, 2008 and sent to the Secretary of State in Washington.
In the cable, U.S. officials said that the willingness of Congress leaders to support “outrageous” comments by erstwhile Minority Affairs Minister Mr. Antulay, propounding a conspiracy theory behind the killing of Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad Chief Hemant Karkare, reflected a cynical political calculation by the party that proved once again that many party leaders were “still wedded to the old identity politics.”
The context of the U.S. diplomats’ criticism was that Mr. Antulay sparked controversy on December 17 with comments insinuating that the killing of Mr. Karkare by the Mumbai terrorists was somehow linked to Mr. Karkare’s investigation of “Hindu terrorists” in the September 2008 Malegaon blasts case.
In that case authorities had arrested eleven Hindus, including an Indian Army Lieutenant Colonel, of whom police had identified five as having ties to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and two others as having ties to Sangh Parivar organisations.
Following Mr. Karkare’s killing, which U.S. officials termed a “remarkable coincidence,” the cable noted that Mr. Antulay had fanned the flames of controversy when he said, “Superficially speaking they had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know.”
The cable further quoted Mr. Antulay as saying, “Unfortunately his end came. It may be a separate inquiry how his end came... There is more than what meets the eyes.”
While U.S. officials praised some segments of Congress leadership, including Home Minister P. Chidambaram, for officially dismissing Mr. Antulay’s comments and distancing the party from them, they attacked Mr. Digvijay Singh’s comments on December 21, when he said, “I don’t think Antulay made a mistake. What he asked for is a probe. What is objectionable in his statement?”
The U.S. embassy noted that the BJP had reacted to Mr. Singh’s statements by shouting slogans, and staging a walkout in Parliament three days in a row, and demanding a formal clarification from the government.
Further U.S. officials noted that emboldened by the equivocation, Mr. Antulay had refused to apologise or retract his statements and instead went on to argue that they reflected the views of a large segment of the Muslim population.
Overall, the U.S. diplomats said, while cooler heads eventually prevailed within the Congress leadership, it chose to pander to Muslims’ fears and the episode demonstrated that the party would readily stoop to the old caste (and) religious-based politics.
“Cable on Modi may have been doctored”
PTI reports from New Delhi:
Mr. Singh on Saturday expressed doubts over WikiLeaks' claim that Lashkar-e-Taiba planned attack on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and alleged the document could have been tampered with by “capable people” in the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“WikiLeaks is open to tampering and I must say that people in the BJP are quite capable of tampering with the document like the Pakistani media did,” Mr. Singh told reporters here.