The India Cables

‘Sonia more comfortable with Left than with regional allies'

In the eyes of American diplomats, Congress president Sonia Gandhi appeared more comfortable working with the Left than with the regional parties in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). File Photo  

In the eyes of American diplomats, Congress president Sonia Gandhi appeared more comfortable working with the Left than with the regional parties in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

In an assessment of Sonia Gandhi during the period of the first UPA government, a cable sent on April 6, 2005 ( >30212: confidential ), under the name of Ambassador David Mulford, said: “Sonia and the Congress leadership complain about Communist obstruction, but are convinced that these parties, although ideological, are not ‘irresponsible.' In the eyes of Congress leaders, most Communists are ‘pragmatic,' projecting an image of looking after the poor and downtrodden, in order to mollify the party faithful, while not preventing government from functioning.”

Weekly meetings

According to the cable, she appeared “more comfortable working with the often high-caste and well-educated Communists than with regional satraps” of the State-based parties. “Several interlocutors claimed that the weekly meetings with the Communists, also attended by Mrs. Gandhi, are more important than the UPA Steering Committee meetings, as Congress has determined that it will put forward no significant economic initiative without first vetting it with the Communists, and attempting to gain their assent. In addition to formal meetings, Mrs. Gandhi calls Left Front leaders to her residence for breakfast on an ad hoc basis. The breakfasts take place only when Sonia and her advisors deem that there is an issue so pressing that it requires a conclave.”

The cable added: “While many in the Congress inner circle have some affinity with the Communists and work together with them on selected issues, they view the regional satraps of the UPA allies with disdain, and prefer to keep them at arm's length. The recent Congress fiasco in Bihar, for example, convinced many in Congress that Bihar-based politicos Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are ‘loose cannons' who cannot be trusted. Their disdain for these often rustic regional politicians has prevented Congress from properly managing the UPA coalition. Because of these engrained prejudices, Congress has been unable to focus on the BJP as its principal adversary, and instead has become mired in internecine squabbling.”

The Congress, the Embassy cabled, had evolved an elaborate culture aimed at protecting the Gandhi dynasty. “Mrs. Gandhi's inner circle carefully controls her access to information, and inoculates her from criticism, while her carefully scripted public appearances protect her from making gaffes or missteps. This has the advantage of preserving the ‘sanctity' of Mrs. Gandhi and the dynasty, but can also complicate her efforts to wield power. This system prevents Mrs. Gandhi from asserting herself and reduces her charisma, and makes her overly reliant on a selected group, which may not always have her or the party's best interests at heart.”

Congress culture

Mrs. Gandhi had deliberately attempted to preserve the image of being ‘above the fray' politically, “taking maximum advantage of Congress culture, which prescribes that the party figurehead be surrounded by an ‘inner coterie' to provide advice, and shield the leader from criticism and dissent.” The Gandhis, the cable continued, “remain coy as to which of their many advisors are ‘in' and which are ‘out,' leading to endless speculation, and large numbers of people claiming to be close to the Gandhi family.”

U.S. Embassy contacts generally agreed that she and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have defined their roles “with the PM acting as a corruption-free technocrat handling governance,” and she concentrating on the “constant give-and-take associated with running an enormous political party with tens of millions of members and a disparate coalition.”

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


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