Cablegate: Former It Minister Maran Says India's Ruling Coalition in Trouble


DE RUEHCG #0069/01 0540738
R 230738Z FEB 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L CHENNAI 000069




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2018


REF: REF: A) 07 CHENNAI 340 B) 07 CHENNAI 337

Classified By: Consul General David T. Hopper for reasons 1.4(b) and (d )

1. (C) SUMMARY: DMK Member of Parliament Dayanidhi Maran spoke candidly about India's current political scene. He said the upcoming budget will provide clues as to whether the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) expects early elections. Maran was pessimistic about the UPA's electoral prospects, especially in South India. He thinks that Congress has no option other than to project Rahul Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. Maran said Rahul Gandhi is a long-shot, but that his elevation could energize India's huge population of young people in favor of the UPA. Maran also said there is good chance that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati could be India's next Prime Minister. END SUMMARY.

Look to Upcoming Budget for Clues on Elections

2. (C) On February 15, Poloff met with DMK Member of Parliament Dayanidhi Maran for the first time since he was sacked in May 2007 as the Union IT and Telecommunications Minister following a dispute with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi (reftels). The Tamil Nadu-based DMK party is a member of the ruling UPA. With the coalition finely balanced, and the DMK's support critical to the survival of the UPA, the regional party enjoys considerable influence in New Delhi. Maran began the conversation by saying the government's upcoming budget will tell whether there will be early elections, before the tenure of the current parliament runs out in May 2009. Maran said "if the budget is full of sops for every different constituency, then you know we will have elections this year. But if it's a normal budget, the UPA will continue into 2009." But Maran added that he had no knowledge of what is coming in the budget as the Prime Minister's Office and Finance Ministry do not confer with MPs in advance of its release.

UPA in Tough Straits Down South

3. (C) Speaking about the UPA's electoral prospects, Maran was very downbeat: "the UPA is in tough shape, especially after Gujarat." Surveying South India, Maran expected significant losses for the UPA partners. In Tamil Nadu, Maran said that the DMK party and its partners would lose about half of their seats if things continue as they are. Talking about the increasing anti-incumbency factor in the state, Maran alluded to the general impression that the DMK is especially corrupt, saying "when people get into power they lose concentration and start focusing on making money." He also spoke about perils of providing freebies: "the problem when you come to power by promising people free TVs is that people soon forget the TVs you gave them and then ask 'what are you doing for me now?'" (COMMENT: Maran's recent falling out with the DMK leadership was in part due to financial reasons, so his swipe at DMK corruption, although largely accurate, reflects some sour grapes. Also, when in favor with Karunanidhi, Maran joined in the TV and other give-away schemes that helped the DMK win the 2006 state elections. END COMMENT.)

4. (C) Maran was pessimistic about Indian National Congress's (INC) prospects in Andhra Pradesh, saying Chief Minister YSR Reddy's popularity is on the decline and that he expects Congress to lose a substantial number of the 29 Lok Sabha seats it currently holds. But he was quick to add that in both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu the UPA's predicted losses stem from failures of the DMK and Congress parties and not from effective opposition. The opposition AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh have floundered according to Maran, who said any UPA losses will have "nothing to do with Jayalalithaa (the AIADMK leader) or Naidu (the TDP leader)." Maran acknowledged that the INC would likely pick up seats in Kerala at the expense of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but said the gains would not be nearly enough to offset UPA losses in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Roll the Dice on Rahul?

5. (C) Maran said the Congress party needs to name Rahul Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. He recognized that it would be a long-shot, but said "Rahul is the only chance they've got." Maran told us "he would definitely help in the south," saying Rahul would benefit from the legacy of his father Rajiv Gandhi's popularity in South India. Maran added that the dynastic element of Rahul's elevation would play well down south: "If you haven't noticed, we don't have much of a problem with dynastic politics down here. In fact, we seem to like it." Maran also feels that Rahul's youth would be a big plus throughout India. He said "65 percent of India's population is under 30;" projecting Rahul as Congress's candidate could help motivate young voters. Maran brushed aside complaints that Rahul failed to help the party in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections: "When you send a guy into a losing situation, what do you expect?" But he said Rahul is being held back by his handlers, who are managing him too closely and keeping him cloistered. Rahul's big problem, Maran said, is that "he doesn't get to see real people."

Watch Out for Mayawati

6. (C) Maran said UP Chief Minister Mayawati "could easily" become India's Prime Minister. With "no credible opposition" in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will win a large majority of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats. Maran told us that both the Congress-led UPA and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance could fall short of a majority of seats in Parliament, with Mayawati's BSP holding enough seats to make up the difference. He added that "she has said she wants to be Prime Minister and could have the seats to demand it."

7. (C) COMMENT: Despite having fallen out with the DMK's supreme leader, Maran remains a DMK MP and continues to have substantial influence in Tamil Nadu on account of his family's Sun TV media empire (owned by older brother Kalanindhi Maran). Maran's sober view of the UPA's prospects in South India, and Tamil Nadu in particular, thus merit attention. But his views on the likelihood of Rahul Gandhi taking the reins in Congress are perhaps colored by his view of himself as part of a new breed of young Indian politicians, playing a similar role in Tamil Nadu's DMK as Rahul does for the Congress party. To the extent he sees Rahul going places, he is seeing a brighter future for himself too. END COMMENT.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy New Delhi.


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