Hindu extremists “bigger threat” to India than Muslim militants: Rahul Gandhi to US

Friday, December 17, 2010

LONDON - Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to India than Muslim militants, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi told the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, at a lunch last year, a diplomatic cable unveiled by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks has revealed.

Gandhi- considered a likely prime ministerial candidate and a scion of India’s leading political family- warned Roemer that although “there was evidence of some support for [Islamic terrorist group Laskar-e-Taiba] among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community”, the Guardian reports.

The 40-year-old son of the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, told Roemer that “the risk of a “homegrown” extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India, was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention”.

On the other hand, the US view of Gandhi has evolved, as in late 2007, US diplomats described the young politician, recently appointed to lead the Congress youth wing, as “widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a lightweight”.

“To do so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina. He will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics,” one said in a cable entitled ‘The son also rises: Rahul Gandhi takes another step towards top job’.

Other cables talk of Gandhi’s political inexperience and repeated gaffes, and also repeat cutting criticism from political analysts and journalists, the paper said.

However as Gandhi warmed to the US, the US warmed to him. In a meeting with another US official last summer, he explained his strategy of targeting rural populations and small towns, impressing his interlocutor.

“[Gandhi] came off as a practiced politician who knew how to get his message across, was precise and articulate and demonstrated a mastery that belied the image some have of [him] as a dilettante,” the official said.

In November last year, after a meeting with the US ambassador, a cable to Washington described Gandhi as “an elusive contact in the past” but now “clearly interested in reaching out to the USG [United States government]“, and a cable from February this year described him as “increasingly sure-footed”.

For Roemer, writing after the lunch during which Gandhi had commented on extremism, “the rising profile of young leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides (the USA with) an opening to expand the constituency in support of the strategic partnership with a long term horizon”. (ANI)

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