Cablegate: Delhi Diary, January 30 - February 19, 2010
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Monday, 22 February 2010, 08:52
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SUBJECT: DELHI DIARY, JANUARY 30 - FEBRUARY 19, 2010
Classified By: Political Counselor Uzra Zeya for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (U) Below is a compilation of political highlights from Embassy New Delhi for January 30 - February 19, 2010, that did not feature in our other reporting.
My Name Is Rahul
2. (SBU) Rahul Gandhi’s Mumbai visit and his skirmishing with the Maharashtra chauvinist Shiv Sena party shows he is becoming increasingly sure-footed in his political instincts. He first hurled some blunt words at the Thackerays and Shiv Sena’s xenophobic agenda. These were widely and sympathetically reported around the country. He then took it a step further when the Shiv Sena issued “Keep Off Maharashtra” threats by going to the Thackeray’s home ground of Mumbai, where he continued to take shots at them. He topped it off by showing the common touch when he made a last minute change in his itinerary to travel across town in a second-class train compartment. All in all, a public relations bonanza for Rahul as the press gave wide coverage to his Siv Sena bashing and his train ride. Forty Shiv Sena activists were detained by the police for Rahul’s visit.
Don’t Talk About My Mother
3. (U) Not to be outdone, the Shiv Sena has been grabbing headlines in recent days with its attacks on Rahul Gandhi, Reliance Group’s Mukesh Ambani and Bollywood icon, Shah Rukh Khan. The Shiv Sena has also been in a tussle with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent organization of its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP), over the rights of North Indian migrants in Mumbai. Media reports a rift between the RSS and the Shiv Sena over the Sena’s verbal attacks on migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi came to the defense of North Indians living and working in Mumbai during an ongoing visit to Bihar by telling press that the Sena was irrelevant and that all Indians had a right to reside freely in India. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray responded by launching an attack on Rahul Gandhi’s “Italian Mummy,” referring to Italian-born UPA chief Sonia Gandhi.
The Tiger Roars Again?
4. (U) Raj Thackeray-led vitriolic splinter group, the MNS, has cut into the Shiv Sena’s support base in recent years. The MNS usurped the Shiv Sena’s xenophobic platform to exclude non-Maharashtrians from power and influence in Maharashtra. Finding themselves increasingly marginalized and losing support from their anti-migrant Marathi-speaking base, the Shiv Sena has gone on a publicity and campaign blitz to position itself as the undisputed champion of ethnic Marathi speakers.
The Bollywood Show Must Go On
5. (U) The Shiv Sena had threatened to ban screenings of Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming movie, “My Name is Khan”, because Shah Rukh Khan publicly lamented the absence of Pakistani cricket players in India’s professional cricket league for the coming season. Shiv Sena goons burnt posters of Khan’s upcoming movie and protested in front of his home, asking Khan to “move to Pakistan.” Khan himself did not bid on any Pakistani players as co-owner of one of the frachises. While some theater owners refrained from screening the film on its Friday opening due to security concerns, a show of force by the police convinced theaters to roll out a full release on Saturday. With protests and controversy generating far more international buzz than the typical Bollywood movie, Khan’s new movie opened to packed audiences in Mumbai and elsewhere.
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New Indian Youth Congress President Appointed
6. (U) On February 3, the Congress Party appointed Rajiv Satav the President of its youth wing, the Indian Youth Congress (IYC). Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi hand-picked Satav for the job, surprising political observers who had expected an election for the top IYC post per Gandhi’s previous statements about making the party “more democratic.” Contacts speculate that the appointment of Satav -- a native of the state of Maharashtra -- is intended to enhance the Congress Party’s position in the state. A Congress Party-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition governs Maharashtra, but the coalition partners have been feuding over rising food prices. (Note: The Congress Party has repeatedly tried to shift the blame for rising prices on to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who is also the Agriculture and Food Supplies Minister in the Congress Party’s United Progressive Alliance government in Delhi. End Note.) Gandhi’s IYC pick may signal that Maharashtra is the next data point along the Congress Party’s trend of going it alone in some large states where it had previously been reduced to a junior partner or a non-entity.
7. (U) Rajiv Satav, 35, is the son of former Maharashtra Minister Rajnitai Satav. Satav was elected to the Maharashtra legislative assembly for the first time in 2009, following his big political break when he was nominated as the Maharashtra Youth Congress chief in 2008. Satav has accompanied Rahul Gandhi on several high profile visits, including his recent tour of Bihar and his train ride in Mumbai. As the Youth Congress chief, Satav will face the challenge of increasing youth participation in the political process, while countering the influence of the Raj Thackeray-led MNS in Maharashtra, whose aggressive and street-smart style has attracted Indian youth.
Valentine’s Day Vignettes: Rainbows and Pink Hearts
8. (U) February 14 marked the first time some couples were able to paint the town pink in India. On July 2, the Delhi High Court overturned some provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law that outlawed same gender sex between two consenting adults. The GOI allowed the historic ruling to stand after deciding not to appeal it. Over six months later, Archie’s, India’s largest greeting card company, gave the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community another cause for celebration by selling cards targeted for the community in 500 stores across New Delhi and major Indian cities to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Archie’s spokesman Yohan Arya told the Times of India that the company had been considering making available several LGBT cards for some time. They decided the time was right after the July 2 high court judgment. “The court judgment ...clearly said that it’s legal to be gay... so we felt this was the right time to add these cards,” Arya added. (It is not yet known how well these new cards sold.) New Delhi also embraced the LGBT community by focusing on them as customers for Valentine’s Day celebrations. Clubs and lounges were buzzing with theme parties and special cocktails, with some bars openly encouraging LGBT couples - the first time this has happened in New Delhi.
A Peaceful Valentine
9. (U) The Sri Ram Sena (SRS), a small, fringe Hindu extremist group which has in the past engaged in isolated violence against young men and women celebrating Valentine’s Day, lost its momentum this year. The leader of the SRS, Pramod Muthalik, claims that he is fighting for India, the youth, and Indian culture. Valentine’s Day, he alleges “is
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aimed at ruining (Indian) culture.” This year, his message was lost, as the Sri Ram Sena joined ranks with the Shiv Sena and spent the days leading up to February 14 fighting the release of Shah Rukh Khan’s latest Bollywoodblockbuster. The SRS faced additional humiliation on February 11 when an individual “attacked” Muthalik. While Muthalik was preparing to participate in a debate on Valentine’s Day in an open air theater, six young men barged in, dragged him off stage, and blackened his face with ink. The shocked Muthalik fell down during the melee before he could be rescued by his supporters. The police arrested two of the perpetrators and brought three more youths in for questioning. With its leader brought down a peg, the SRS was not heard from during this year’s Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Update on Tibetan Refugee Flow
10. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff on February 4 that an average of 2,500 to 3,500 refugees from Tibet typically arrive in Dharamsala each year, with most returning to Tibet after receiving an audience with the Dalai Lama. XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed that from 1980 to November 2009 87,096 refugees were processed by the Dharamsala Reception Center (RC) and that 46,620 returned to Tibet after a short pilgrimage in India. Most of those who do stay in India are children who then attend schools run by Tibetan Children’s Villages. XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX both highlighted to PolOff that, following the March 2008 uprising in Tibet, the number of Tibetan refugees markedly decreased, with only about 650 refugees arriving at the RC from April 2008 to March 2009. XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that Beijing has asked Kathmandu to step up patrols of Nepali border forces and make it more difficult for Tibetans to enter Nepal. XXXXXXXXXXXX reiterated this belief to PolOff during a XXXXXXXXXXXX meeting in Delhi, stating “the Chinese government rewards (Nepali forces)” by providing financial incentives to officers who hand over Tibetans attempting to exit China. XXXXXXXXXXXX was optimistic that flow of refugees will soon go back to normal levels because admission statistics for 2010 are surpassing those from an equivalent period in 2009. XXXXXXXXXXXX ROEMER