Cablegate: Mumbai Terror Attacks: Goi Heads Begin to Roll
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Sunday, 30 November 2008, 16:01
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 003025
FOR PRICIPALS FROM AMBASSADOR MULFORD
EO 12958 DECL: 11/30/2018
TAGS PGOV, PTER, PHUM, PREL, PINR, KDEM, KISL, PK, IN
SUBJECT: MUMBAI TERROR ATTACKS: GOI HEADS BEGIN TO ROLL
REF: A. NEW DELHI 3024 B. NEW DELHI 3018 C. MUMBAI 550
Classified By: Ambassador David C. Mulford for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: The Prime Minister began to take some initial steps to respond to the anger and fury of the Indian public at GOI failures that made the Mumbai attacks possible. Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned on November 30. Finance Minister P.C. Chidambaram takes over from him while the Prime Minister takes over the Finance portfolio. NSA Narayanan offered his resignation but post contacts say he will remain in place. There may be some other scalping that takes place but there will likely not be a wholesale clean out. The GOI will also consider announcing some other steps in the coming days to strengthen the country’s intelligence and terror fighting capacity. The Congress Party realizes it is in deep political trouble as a result of the Mumbai attacks. It is taking these steps to try to show the Indian public that it takes terrorism seriously. It may be too little too late, however, for the Congress Party to reverse its fortunes before May 2009. End Summary.
Fury at the UPA
2. (C) In the 36 hours since the terrorists in Mumbai were taken out, the firing stopped and the clean-up began, it has become increasingly clear that the Indian public is furious at the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, especially the Congress Party. The Indian public and the media point the finger squarely at the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi for breakdown of the intelligence apparatus and for failure to build the capacity to fight terrorism. “Enough is enough” is the prevailing sentiment. In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the public is beginning to look upon its government with both anger and ridicule. In this atmosphere, voters are likely to inflict a severe setback to the Congress Party in state elections which are underway now, and national elections, due before May 2009. State legislative elections results for five states are due to be announced on December 8, with polling in three of five states taking place after the Mumbai attacks began.
3. (C) The political fallout started immediately after the Mumbai attacks ended, amid signs that GOI leadership understands the gravity of the political backlash. On November 29, Sonia Gandhi called together the party top brass to take stock of the political damage when she convened an emergency meeting of the party Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body. Home Minister Shivraj Patil was subjected to heavy criticism by his colleagues at that meeting. The Prime Minister called a meeting of his defense and intelligence team on November 29 to discuss options to react to the mounting evidence that the terrorists belonged to Pakistan-based Jihadi groups. The Prime Minister also convened an all-party meeting on November 30 to discuss a united approach to strengthening the country’s terror-fighting capacity. The UPA will brace for a hammering from opposition parties and its erstwhile Communist partners when parliament convenes on December 10.
Heads Begin to Roll
4. (C) Following bitter criticism of his performance by the media, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his own Congress Party colleagues, Patil submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister on November 30 and it has
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been accepted. Finance Minister P.C. Chidamabram will move over to the Home Ministry while the Prime Minister will take over the Finance Ministry. Chidambaram has previously served as a Minister of State in the Home Ministry.
5. (C) There was media speculation on November 30 that National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan had offered to resign. Post contacts tell us, however, that Narayanan will remain in place. There is continuing and widespread media speculation as to how far the blood letting will go. Names of Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, Intelligence Bureau Chief P.C. Haldar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil are often mentioned as being on the chopping block. But no action has been taken on these men as of the evening of November 30.
6. (C) Another action that the UPA is almost sure to take is strengthening laws to fight terrorism. The UPA had repealed the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act when it came to power on grounds that it was abused by the security agencies. There is a clamor now in the political classes to toughen the laws. The Prime Minister, in his address to the nation promised tightening of the laws to “ensure that there are no loopholes available to the terrorists. Some obsevers have called for an Indian “Patriot Act.” Other steps it will likely consider are creation of a central security agency to focus combating terrorism and to streamline federal-state terror fighting coordination.
Pakistan: No Immediate Calls for Retaliation
7. (C) While the media has reported on the Pakistan ties of the captured terrorist, there were no angry calls for swift retribution against the Pakistan. However the public feels about Pakistani involvement, it will not let the GOI off hook for its failure to prevent the Mumbai attacks if it tries to shift the attention and blame to Pakistan. The GOI appears to sense this and so far is publicly floating a non-kinetic response: suspension of the Composite Dialogue, recalling the Ambassador to Islamabad, and cancelling cricket matches, even at neutral venues.
8. (C) Embassy’s preliminary assessment is that the Congress Party understands that it is in deep political trouble over its handling of the Mumbai attacks and is desperately seeking to limit the damage. The firing of the Home Minister and other personnel changes in the government, if they occur, as well as announcing steps to improve the country’s terror fighting capability are all intended to convey a political message to the Indian public that the UPA government takes the Mumbai attacks seriously. It may be too little too late, however, for the Congress Party to reverse its fortunes before May 2009.
9. (C) In this environment, removal of the Home Minister was inevitable. He has over the last four years proved himself to be spectacularly inept. In almost every incident of terrorist or communal violence - Bangalore, Ahemdabad, Jaipur, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Guwahati, Samjhauta Express, Orissa, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir - he has been asleep on the watch. Each time there have been calls for his ouster but Sonia Gandhi has protected him. The public’s reaction to the Mumbai incidents has been such that even she could not save him this time.
10. (C) We believe there is a fair chance that there will be
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a political shakeout in the state of Maharashtra as well. There has been an active faction in the state’s Congress Party that has long been plotting to oust Chief Minister Deshmukh. These calls have grown louder over the last few days. The Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil became the object of scathing media ridicule when he played down the Mumbai attacks by saying on television that these sorts of incidents happen from time to time in a big city such as Mumbai.
11. (C) It is not clear how deep the scalping will run within the bureaucracy. The Prime Minister will have to balance the pressure for heads to roll with the fact that getting rid of NSA Narayanan, Home Secretary Gupta and Intelligence Bureau chief Haldar will mean he will be left with a completely new intelligence team that will take time to settle in, not an attractive prospect to govern with in the last few months of his term. The discipline and culture of Indian bureaucracy is such that if these men stay on they will continue to wield power and would not be treated as damaged goods by the rest of the government. MULFORD