(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.