Cablegate: Author Taslima Nasreen: Pawn in Political Web

DE RUEHNE #5119/01 3321332
O 281332Z NOV 07 ZDK




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Summary: Claiming that the Communist Party of India
- Marxist (CPM) pushed her to leave Kolkata (ref A),
controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen finally
settled in a "safe place" in Delhi under the security of the
Indian central government. Her flight from Kolkata sparked a
political firestorm, with the BJP offering her sanctuary and
the CPM, ironically, being seen as anti-secular. After a
pounding in the media and the opposition for initially
looking the other way during Nasreen's flight, the UPA
finally agreed on November 28 to provide her safe shelter in
India provided she not engage in political activities.
Congress and the CPM continued to snipe at each other while
searching for a solution that does not offend their
all-important Muslim vote bank. The CPM is being accused by
some of manufacturing the controversy in order to drive
Nandigram out of the front pages. The Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) has claimed the secular high ground calling for
Nasreen to receive a permanent visa. Adding a farcical tinge
to the controversy, noted Muslim-bashing Gujarat BJP Chief
Minister Narendra Modi has even jumped on the bandwagon,
offering Nasreen protection in his state.

2. (SBU) While on the defensive, the CPM believes this is an
easier issue to handle in Parliament than Nandigram, and is
probably quietly relieved that her case has pushed the
Nandigram massacres from the front page. The Congress wants
to push the issue under the rug. The BJP holds the upper
hand and will milk the controversy dry. As for the author,
she has said Kolkata is her home and she would prefer to live
there, but the CPM, it seems, despite its high-minded
rhetoric about looking after the little guy, has no space in
that teeming city for a female author fleeing an unjust fatwa
and threats to her life in Bangladesh. In the end, this
episode further exposes the CPM for the hypocritical
authoritarians that they really are. End Summary

Intolerance Rears its Ugly Head
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (U) The storm surrounding controversial Bangladeshi
writer Taslima Nasreen began on November 21, a few days after
the Nandigram killings (ref B). Nasreen and Nandigram became
linked after All India Minorities Forum president Idris Ali
led a protest against CPM's actions in Nandigram and demanded
Nasreen's Indian visa be revoked for what he claimed were her
anti-Islamic writings. Protesters fought a pitched battle
with Kolkata police causing numerous injuries but no
fatalities. To quell the violence, the CPM government of
West Bengal (GOWB) called for Nasreen to "leave the state."
(Note: Nasreen, who travels on a Swedish passport, faces
death threats from fundamentalists in Bangladesh, her country
of birth, for her writings. Her Indian visa expires February
17, 2008).

The CPM Abandons Her to Her Fate
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (U) On November 22, with the facilitation of GOWB
officials and ironically wearing a burqa, Nasreen left
Kolkata for Jaipur. However, she only stayed in Rajasthan
one day as the Muslim group All India Milia Council
threatened protests in the city. Fearing violence, the
Rajasthan government transferred Nasreen to its guest house
in Delhi on November 24. She remained there until her
security was handed over to the central government which
promptly moved Nasreen to an undisclosed "safe place,"
reportedly the National Security Guards Complex a few miles
south of Delhi. The Taslima Nasreen issue came up at a
November 27 meeting of the Union Cabinet, which made the
decision to move Nasreen from Rajasthan House to a safer

The Government Finally Does the Right Thing (Sort Of)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (U) After a pounding from civil activists and the BJP,
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, noting that India has
"never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our
protection" assured Parliament on November 28 that India
would allow Nasreen to stay in India. He urged, however,
that Nasreen not indulge in activities and actions that "hurt

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the sentiments" of Indians or mar India's relations with
other countries.

Taslima's Version: Wait for Her Next Book
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (U) For her part, Nasreen has not explained the exact
circumstances of her journey from Kolkata to Jaipur to Delhi.
Initially she told the press, "I was asked to go to
Rajasthan but why I was asked to go and by whom, let us not
speak about this." However, she did allow later that certain
top officials of the Kolkata police, "put pressure on me; I
was driven out." She has stated that she wants to return to
Kolkata, saying, "I want to go back to the city and start my
life afresh, returning to my writing. I am missing home
intensely." She has not been shy in talking to the media,
with most national newspapers getting juicy quotes from her.
Nasreen has been in exile from Bangladesh for at least 13
years and has lived in Kolkata for more than three years.

Let the Politics Begin
- - - - - - - - - - - -

7. (U) Amidst heavy criticism from the BJP, the CPM has
tried to downplay the issue and shift the onus for any
decision on Nasreen's final status to the Congress-led UPA
government. When asked about Nasreen, politburo member
Sitaram Yechury evaded responsibility: "Whether she should
remain in India or not and whether her visa should be
extended or not is a decision to be taken by the central
government. It is beyond the scope of any state government.
Let the central government decide on this," Yechury said.

Congress Neither Secular nor Courageous
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (U) Despite Pranab Mukerjee's statement in Parliament,
the damage had been done for the Congress Party. It came
under heavy attack from the BJP for the "silence" on the
affair from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president
Sonia Gandhi. The Congress Party has tried to deflect blame
to the CPM. Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi relayed
that when the central government last extended Nasreen's
visa, it was only over several objections from the CPM Bengal
government. But the Congress, too, refused to answer direct
questions about Nasreen's status until the Mukherjee
statement in Parliament.

BJP Opportunistic and Exploitative
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

9. (U) The BJP has hammered the Congress Party and,
especially, the CPM, accusing both of caving to Islamic
fundamentalists to pander to the Muslim vote bank. "It is a
shame for the entire nation that Taslima Nasreen is made to
run for her life after she was granted shelter and visa to
stay in the country," said V.K. Malhotra, BJP's Deputy Leader
in the Lok Sabha. The BJP is demanding that Nasreen be
treated as a political refugee and receive a permanent visa.
Jumping on the bandwagon while pursuing his reelection
campaign, Gujarat Chief Minister Modi invited Nasreen to
Gujarat, boasting, "I have the courage to protect her."
Hindu nationalist party Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's chief
K.S. Sudarshan has also offered to host Nasreen.

Comment: BJP Ahead, but Nandigram off the Front Page
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

10. (SBU) At a recent book release event in Delhi, Chandan
Mitra, editor of the Pioneer newspaper, castigated the CPM
for its treatment of Nasreen. He accused the CPM of
blatantly creating a "Nasreen issue" by deporting her from
the state to push the Nandigram controversy out of the
national spotlight. The strategy appears to have worked, and
not only for the CPM's benefit. Nandigram had become a
political liability for the Congress due to its refusal to
condemn openly its CPM ally for their brutal actions. This
incident also suggests that there are many within the
Congress including FM Mukherjee, for example) who share
substantive political views with the CPM.

11. (SBU) After Nandigram, Nasreen represented a convenient
foil for both the CPM and fundamentalist Muslim leaders in
Kolkata. From their actions (or lack thereof), it is clear

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India's main political parties could not care less about
Nasreen or her writing beyond how their parties' reactions to
events play to voters. Not wanting to offend the Muslim vote
bank, neither Congress nor CPM has officially supported an
extension of Nasreen's visa. Both parties want the situation
to go away. The BJP will ensure that will not happenby
raising the issue in Parliament to batter both the CPM and
Congress and to burnish their own tarnished secular
credentials. The BJP has seized the high ground and will
milk the controversy for all it's worth. For Taslima, the
last week has been chaotic, but will no doubt provide ample
material for her next book. As for the CPM, the public are
increasingly aware that their lofty rhetoric about looking
out for the little guy rings hollow, since they have stooped
recently not only to kill peasants at Nandigram but to
abandon a female author in order to pander to vote banks.
Surely they could have found space for one woman in a teeming
city of 16 million?

© Scoop Media

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