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Cablegate: Delhi Diary, Apr 21-28

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 001166

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SENSITIVE
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USDA FOR DUS TERPSTRA, FAS/YOST, MILLER, OCRA/RADLER, CARVER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PHUM PBTS TBIO EAGR NP IN BG
SUBJECT: DELHI DIARY, APR 21-28

REF: A. NEW DELHI 790
B. NEW DELHI 0934
C. NEW DELHI 0888

1. (U) Below is a compilation of political highlights from
Embassy New Delhi for April 21-28, 2008 that did not feature
in our other reporting, including:

-- Composite Dialogue Dates Set For May 20 and 21
-- UPA Announces Record Foodgrain Harvest Estimate
-- Naxalite/Maoist Incidents Increase in 2007
-- Women's Empowerment in BJP-Ruled States
-- Bickering in the Punjab Congress Party Leadership
-- Congress Takes a Hit on Poorly Implemented Roadway
-- All Aboard! Railway Reconnects Bengalis

Composite Dialogue Dates Set For May 20 and 21
------

2. (SBU) Reftels (ref B, C) previewed that India was set to
resume Composite Dialogue (CD) talks with Pakistan, once the
new Pakistani government was prepared to proceed. Foreign
Secretary Menon will travel to Islamabad May 20 to meet with

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his counterpart, and Foreign Minister Mukherjee will meet
Foreign Minister Qureshi the next day, May 21. The Foreign
Secretaries meeting will actually conclude the Fourth Round

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of the CD, with Mukherjee and Qureshi to open the Fifth
Round. (Note: Each round consists of discussions on eight
specific subjects, ranging from border disputes such as
Kashmir and Siachen to economic cooperation. End Note.)
India hopes that visits by Menon, Mukherjee and possibly
Narayanan will pave the way for Prime Minister Singh to make
a visit to Pakistan within the year. GOI officials told us
that PM Singh is eager to visit his place of birth (he was
born in West Punjab). PM Singh will also visit Nepal, Bhutan
and Sri Lanka this year.

UPA Announces Record Food grain Harvest Estimate
-------

3. (U) After months of pummeling by the opposition Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) and by its own Communist and non-Communist
allies over a variety of issues including the U.S.-India
civil nuclear agreement and rising food prices, the
beleaguered Congress Party sought to spread some good cheer.
The Agriculture Ministry reported on April 23 that it expects
a record food grain harvest this year with production of
wheat, rice, pulses, and other cereals estimated to be 227
million tons during May 2007 to May 2008, 10 million tons
higher than in the preceding year. While most observers
agree that the harvest this year is a good one, there is a
divergence of views on how good it is and whether it will
help ease rising food prices or alleviate pressure on the
Congress Party.

4. (SBU) The food grain harvest announcement was clearly
intended to provide a boost to the Congress Party and the
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which it leads
as they lurch into their final year in office in a weakened
state. The Congress Party had suffered a string of state
election losses over the last year, with the most
disheartening being the trouncing it suffered in Gujarat at
the hands of the BJP and Narendra Modi. The Congress Party
was increasingly perceived as without backbone for its
failure to stand up to bullying by its Communist partners
over the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal and other issues. The
BJP, unified and with several recent state election wins
under its belt, sensed blood and escalated its attacks
questioning the Congress Party's fitness to govern.

5. (SBU) When inflation touched a three-year high of 7.4
percent earlier this month, the Congress Party was truly on

NEW DELHI 00001166 002 OF 004


the ropes. The government's pronouncement of a "record"
foodgrain harvest will help to blunt some of these attacks
and provide respite to the Congress. The highly beneficial
timing of the revised estimate, however, raised some
eyebrows, especially since there were questions about how
good the harvest is for the really important food grains -
rice and wheat - and because the Ministry does not have a
strong record in estimating harvests. Nonetheless, the
announcement gives the Congress Party some breathing room and
the Ministry likely hopes it will suppress hoarding
inclinations or inflationary expectations, which otherwise
could spur further inflationary behavior. As such, the
announcement on its own works to battle inflation in the
short term. End comment.

Naxalite/Maoist Incidents Increase in 2007
-------

6. (U) The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) released
statistics this week showing a modest increase in the number
of incidents of Naxalite/Maoist violence in India: 1,565 in
2007, up from 1,506 in 2006. The number of deaths in these
incidents also increased from 678 to 696. MHA data shows
that the Naxalite/Maoist violence was concentrated in the
states of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa, which
together accounted for 80 percent of the incidents.

7. (SBU) The data are not good news for the United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) government because it feeds
directly into one of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) main
campaign planks -- that the UPA and the Congress Party are
soft on terrorism. The BJP's terrorism theme has three legs:
Pakistan-inspired Islamic terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and
beyond; Chinese-supported insurgencies in the northeastern
states; and Naxalite/Maoist violence in many central and
eastern states. The resounding election victory next door by
Nepal's Maoist party should serve as a lesson to the GOI that
these violent leftist movements can gain popular support in
areas where governance is especially poor.

Women's Empowerment in BJP-ruled States
------

8. (U) In a move applauded by women's groups, the Rajasthan
Government announced a mandatory 50 percent seat reservation
for women in Panchayati Raj institutions (PRI) by amending
the 1994 Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, which had already
reserved 33 percent of seats for women. The Panchayati Raj
system was introduced in the 1950-60s in order to extend
grass roots self-government opportunities to rural India in
an effort to boost its socio-economic transformation.
Uttarkhand had enacted similar legislation earlier this year.
With this measure, Rajasthan joins Uttarkhand, Madhya
Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar as states which have set
aside half the panchayat slots for women (Ref A).

9. (U) Comment: Civil Society and women's groups are
optimistic about this new development but hope that it will
not deny or delay women PRI leaders the necessary
administrative support and funding required to support the
new seats. They emphasized the need for women in PRIs to
participate in good governance in a genuine way and not sit
idly along side their male counterparts as mere placeholders.
They also emphasized the need for change in familial,
community and government perceptions toward women in PRI.
Good intentions aside, most see this as a calculated election
move by the Rajasthan government to appeal to the female
vote. Rajasthan goes to polls at the end of this year. The
Rajasthan initiative is also consistent with a BJP strategy
to target the women's vote nationally. All the states with a
50 percent quota for women in panchyats are BJP-ruled,
although the BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Bihar.

NEW DELHI 00001166 003 OF 004


The party has also reserved 33 percent of the slots in the
party organization for women.

Bickering in the Punjab Congress Party Leadership
------

10. (U) On April 21, senior Congress leader and Foreign
Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee summoned former Congress
Party Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and current
President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee Rajinder
Kaur Bhattal to mediate an ongoing and escalating verbal
argument between the two leaders which the media and the
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have been closely watching and
enjoying. The central party leadership came down firmly on
Singh and Bhattal, telling them to "keep shut" after their
accusations and counter-accusations became poisonous. The two
warring leaders were accusing each other of consorting with
terrorists during the time of the Punjab militancy in the
1980s. Bhattal accused Singh of housing terrorists and Singh
alleged that Bhattal had cut a deal with a known terrorist in
exchange for the freedom of her nephew.

11. (U) The public fighting between Singh and Bhattal
provided fuel to the ruling Akalis, with President Sukbhir
Singh Badal lashing out at the Congress Party for the role it
played during one of the most violent times in Punjab
history. Based on the comments of Singh and Bhattal, Badal
accused the Congress Party as having "mothered, nursed, and
sustained" terrorism in the state. Badal demanded a Central
Bureau of Investigations probe of the Congress Party's role
played during the insurgency, saying that the incriminating
statements lodged by Bhattal and Singh against each other are
very serious and should not be dismissed. He asserted that
the statements are not simply an internal Congress Party
squabble but have public relevance since they imply
accountability for the death of thousands of Punjabis.

12. (SBU) Comment: The Congress Party's role in the rise of
militancy in Punjab is well documented. It constitutes
another shameful chapter in the party's past that it would
rather not have on the front pages with Lok Sabha polls
around the corner. The insurgency was a violent time that
impacted many Punjabis lives and could be extremely damaging
to the Congress Party in northern India and beyond. The
public brawl between Bhattal and Singh indicates a fragmented
Punjab Congress Party which has yet to recover from its
thumping by the Akali-BJP combine a year ago.

Congress Takes a Hit on Poorly Implemented Roadway
------

13. (U) The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
continues to score points against the Congress Party; the
latest involves extreme traffic congestion on a newly opened
south Delhi traffic corridor. The 25 million dollar, 3.5
mile corridor features a dedicated bus lane and was supposed
to speed flow of traffic through Delhi. However, due to a
lack of manpower, poor signage, faulty traffic signals, and
general Indian indifference to rules of the road, the
gridlock chaos it created became front page news, even for
the national newspapers.

14. (U) The story became bigger news after Chandan Mitra of
the BJP took to the floor of the Rajya Sahba and called the
project "scatterbrained," "ill-conceived" and demanded it be
scrapped entirely. Congress Party Delhi Chief Minister
Sheila Dikshit called an emergency meeting to try and solve
the problem. As Congress Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf
said, "We do not want to do anything to inconvenience the
people in an election year."

15. (SBU) Comment: From national issues such as inflation to

NEW DELHI 00001166 004 OF 004


local issues such as traffic congestion, the Congress Party
cannot seem to do anything right lately. While overcrowded
roadways will not likely be a large issue in the coming
national polls, they will most certainly play a role in the
Delhi assembly elections scheduled for later this year. To
the extent that voter antipathy towards Congress on local
issues bleeds into the national election, it can only
strengthen the BJP's case for change.

16. (SBU) Comment Continued: The uproar over the corridor
reflects the Delhi public's increasing frustration with the
city's traffic management problem. As the number of vehicles
grows exponentially in Delhi - by some estimates 1,000 new
motorized vehicles are added to DelhI's roads each day - the
traffic snarls get worse each day, accidents and road rage
incidents are more frequent, and Delhi's residents are
unhappier. There are numerous transportation upgrade
projects underway in Delhi, but traffic volume is increasing
at such a pace that it will overwhelm the widened roads and
new bridges and underpasses by the time they are completed.
Haphazard and ill-conceived efforts to borrow fixes from
outside India just add to the mess. End Comment.

All Aboard! Railway Reconnects Bengalis
------

17. (U) On April 14 (Bengali New Year's Day), Kolkata-Dhaka
direct train service resumed after a hiatus of 43 years. The
Maitree Express left Dhaka Cantonment railway station for
Sealdah station in West Bengal, India, for the first time
since hostilities between India and Bangladesh (then called
East Pakistan) in 1965 shut down the service. The GOI and GOB
signed an agreement restoring the railway connection on April
10 after protracted negotiations and delays, the most recent
being a disagreement over enclosing portions of the track
near the border. India's access to its Northeast states (and
to SE Asia by extension) has been hampered by the mistrust
between the two countries. India's recently signed Kaladan
Multi-Modal Transport Project agreement with Burma, for
example, is partly an effort to establish a route around
Bangladesh. While the resumption of train service between the
two countries is a positive development and a confidence
building measure welcomed by Bengalis on both sides of the
border, it is largely symbolic. The GOI remains cautiously
optimistic that the upward trend in bilateral relations will
continue, although it believes that an elected government
must be in place before relations can be taken to the next
level.
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