Washington: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi had told US ambassador Timothy Roemer that growth of "radicalised Hindu groups" which create religious tensions in India could pose a bigger threat to the country than activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba.
According to a secret US diplomatic cable from New Delhi released by WikiLeaks, the Congress leader shared his views with Roemer on a range of political topics, social
challenges, and electoral issues for the Congress party in the next five years.
The cable contained details of Gandhi`s conversation with the envoy at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence in July 2009 in honour of visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Responding to the Ambassador`s query about Lashkar-e-Toiba`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," the cable notes.
"However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim
community," it said.
The cable dated August 3, 2009 which described Roemer`s luncheon encounter with Gandhi on July 20, 2009, noted that Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by
some of the more polarising 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," it said.
The cable signed off by Roemer says that Gandhi, who was seated next to the Ambassador, was forthright in describing the challenges faced by the Congress party and the UPA government in the months ahead.
The United States, which has accused WikiLeaks, of stealing its secret cables, has refused to either deny or confirm the authenticity of these cables.
"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," it said.
Roemer spoke about the need to reach out to the young leaders of the country.
"We will seek other opportunities to engage with him and with other promising young members of the new generation of parliamentarians," he said.
"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 said.
According to the cable, 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," he said.
"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.
The cable noted that Gandhi did not seem to be as focused on electoral efforts in bigger cities, such as Delhi and Mumbai.
"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 programmes in Parliament," the cable said.
In late 2007, US diplomats had described Gandhi 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," it said.
"He will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and
ruthless business that is Indian politics," a diplomat
reportedly said in a cable entitled `The son also rises: Rahul
Gandhi takes another step towards top job`.
Other US cables talk of Gandhi`s political
inexperience and repeated gaffes.
They also repeat cutting criticism from political
analysts and journalists.
However, the cables reportedly reveal that as Gandhi
warmed to the US, the US warmed to him.
In a meeting with another American 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)".
A cable from February this year describes him as
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".