Reaching Out To Rahul Gandhi And Other Young Parliamentarians

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¶1. (C) Summary: In a candid conversation with the Ambassador during
the July 20 lunch hosted by Prime Minister Singh for the Secretary,
Indian Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi described his
focus on upcoming state and local elections, expressed concerns
regarding the challenges surrounding the UPA coalition’s ability to
implement its programs, and speculated about radicalization among
Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was interested in engaging with the
Ambassador and could become a key interlocutor, along with other
young members of Parliament, as we pursue a Strategic Dialogue with
India. End Summary.

¶2. (C) During the Secretary’s July 20 meetings in New Delhi (see
reftel), Prime Minister Singh hosted a lunch in honor of the
Secretary. Among the invitees was Indian Congress Party General
Secretary Rahul Gandhi, as well as other prominent figures from
politics, business and civil society. Gandhi, who was seated next to
the Ambassador, shared his views on a range of political topics,
social challenges, and electoral issues for the Congress Party in the
next five years.

Rural Strategy
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¶3. (C) Gandhi stressed that his focus in the upcoming months would
be on state assembly elections in Maharashtra and party building
efforts at the local level. He was busy trying to recruit more
appealing candidates to run for Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA)
positions nationwide. Gandhi’s focus was on finding younger party
members who would not carry some of the baggage of older Congress
candidates. He aimed at rebuilding party structures in small towns
and rural areas to attract voters and believed the main opposition
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was vulnerable there. He did not seem
to be as focused on electoral efforts in bigger cities, such as Delhi
and Mumbai.

Honeymoon is Over
—-

¶4. (C) Noting that the Congress Party victory in this past spring’s
parliamentary elections had put the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government in a comfortable position, Gandhi still expressed concerns
about the numerous challenges regarding the UPA’s ability to
implement its programs in Parliament. He said that the honeymoon
period had been short and he now expected the BJP and Left Parties
would be unrelenting critics of the government’s program. Speaking
while the budget session of Parliament was ongoing, Gandhi touched on
the difficulties in keeping the UPA coalition on the right track.
(Note: This conversation took place before the full scope of
opposition to the July 16 Indo-Pakistani joint statement in Sharm el
Sheikh had become apparent. End Note.)

Creeping Radicalization?
—-

¶5. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s query about Lashkar-e-Taiba’s
activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said
there was evidence of some support for the group among certain
elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community. However, Gandhi
warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalized Hindu
groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations
with the Muslim community. (Comment: Gandhi was referring to the
tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP
such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.) The risk of a
“home-grown” 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.

Comment
—-

¶6. (C) Gandhi was forthright in describing the challenges faced by
the Congress Party and the UPA government in the months ahead. Over
the past four years, he was an elusive contact, but he could be
interested in reaching out to the United States, given a thoughtful,
politically sensitive and strategic approach on our part. We will
seek other opportunities to engage with him and with other promising

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young members of the new generation of parliamentarians. Gandhi
mentioned that in the recent election 60 members of the new
Parliament were 45 or younger. In a system long viewed as relatively
static, the influx of new faces and the rising profile of young
leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides us an opening to expand the
constituency in support of the strategic partnership with a long term
horizon.

ROEMER