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India Congress scion Rahul Gandhi says radical Hindus a threat

gandhis (Photo: Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi May 21, 2009/B Mathur)

Rahul Gandhi, seen as an India prime minister in waiting, told the U.S. ambassador radical Hindu groups could posed a bigger threat to the country than the Islamists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, a leaked cable showed. The comments made to Timothy Roemer last year were immediately criticised by the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to political sparring that has deadlocked parliament and pushed policymaking into limbo.

Gandhi’s comments, made in response to a question from Roemers on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, referred to religious tension created by more extreme BJP leaders, according to the cable dated August 3, 2009. It was released by WikiLeaks and published on Friday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the LeT among Indian Muslims, the ambassador wrote, according to the cable.  “However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Roemer wrote. The ambassador added a comment that “Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

Gandhi, son of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, has sparked the BJP’s ire before. He once compared the opposition party’s parent organisation to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. On Friday, the BJP said Gandhi’s comments were adding grist to propaganda from Islamist militants and Pakistan.

India has a history of communal tensions between majority Hindus and minority Muslims, and critics say several political parties play on insecurities amongst Muslims to win votes.  Radical Hindu groups, some with ties to the BJP or the BJP’s more extreme sister organisations, have been linked to bomb attacks against Muslim targets.

India’s defeated Hindu nationalist party faces survival test

advaniRiven by squabbling, India’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be forced to name a new leader in a crisis that could reshape the main opposition party, strengthening the left and hindering government efforts at financial reforms.

An election defeat in May touched off a leadership struggle and a debate over whether its Hindu-revivalist agenda, once its passport to power, was now irrelevant for younger voters. Moves are underway to replace 81-year-old leader L.K. Advani with someone from a younger generation, but the BJP is struggling to find a candidate who balances its pro-Hindu ideology (“Hindutva”) with its history of pro-market reforms. (Photo: L.K. Advani campaigning, 29 April 2009/Jayanta Shaw)

Narendra Modi, the firebrand chief minister of western Gujarat state whose pro-market image saw leading Indian industrialists float his name as a potential future prime minister, appears to be sidelined. That signals the party is worried about losing the middle ground by boosting Modi, accused of turning a blind eye to religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, were killed by mobs.

from India Insight:

U.N. report says real risk of Indian religious strife

It did not get great publicity but a recent U.N. report on religious freedom in India offers a stinging image of a country suffering from communal divisions and mob-inspired religious persecution.

 It argues there is a very real risk of a repeat of a tragedy like the Gujarat riots of 2002, when more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims,were killed by Hindu mobs.

The U.S. Special Rapporteur of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, a well-respected Pakistani human rights activist, travelled to India last March to prepare the report. It catalogues violence and discrimination faced by India's religious minorities, whether Muslim or Christian or Sikh.