C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 003228
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS
EO 12958 DECL: 12/22/2018
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PTER, KISL, IN
SUBJECT: CONGRESS PARTY STUNG PLAYING RELIGIOUS POLITICS
REF: MUMBAI 518
Classified By: PolCouns Ted Osius for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: On the floor of parliament, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram officially dismissed comments made by the Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay that implied Hindutva elements may have been involved in the Mumbai attacks. Antulay sparked a political controversy on December 17 with comments insinuating that the killing of Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) Chief Hemant Karkare by the Mumbai terrorists was somehow linked to Karkare's investigation of bombings in which radical Hindus are suspected (reftel). The outlandish comments suggested that somehow Hindutva elements were in league with the Mumbai attackers, or used the attacks as cover to kill Karkare. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately called for Antulay's resignation and protested with boisterous walkouts in parliament over the course of five days. Compounding matters, the Congress Party, after first distancing itself from the comments, two days later issued a contradictory statement which implicitly endorsed the conspiracy. During this time, Antulay's completely unsubstantiated claims gained support in the conspiracy-minded Indian-Muslim community. Hoping to foster that support for upcoming national elections, the Congress Party cynically pulled back from its original dismissal and lent credence to the conspiracy. Regardless of Chidambaram's dismissal (and Antulay's party-ordered retraction), the Indian Muslim community will continue to believe they are unfairly targeted by law enforcement and that those who investigate the truth are silenced.
Killed in Mumbai Attacks, Karkare Led Investigation into "Hindu Terror"
2. (U) Indian Minorities Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay's sparked controversy on December 17 with comments insinuating that the killing of Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) Chief Hemant Karkare by the Mumbai terrorists was somehow linked to Karkare's investigation of "Hindu terrorists." Two of the Mumbai terrorists gunned down Karkare, and his ATS colleagues Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and Inspector Vijay Salaskar the first night of attacks, November 26. The three officers were killed as they reached a hospital the terrorists entered after attacking the Mumbai train station.
3. (U) As Maharashtra ATS Chief, Karkare led the investigation into the September 2008 Malegaon blasts which claimed the lives of six people. Initially the police suspected Muslim terrorists. However, authorities recently arrested eleven Hindus, including an Indian Army Lieutenant Colonel. Police identified five of those arrested as having ties to the BJP's youth wing in their earlier years. Two others had ties to a recent addition to the Sangh Parivar family of Hindu nationalist organizations.
4. (U) On December 17, even as a solemn debate on the Mumbai attacks and counterterrorism was taking place in parliament, Antulay made a series of public comments drawing attention to a possible link between Karkare's killing and his investigation. He offered no evidence to back-up his claims.
-- "Superficially speaking they had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know."
-- "Karkare found that there are non Muslims involved in the
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acts of terrorism during his investigations in some cases. Any person going to the roots of terrorism has always been the target."
-- "Unfortunately his end came. It may be a separate inquiry how his end came."
-- "There is more than what meets the eyes."
Congress Party Dismisses...
5. (U) Most Congress Party leaders quickly disassociated the Party from Atulay's comments. Congress Party spokesman Abishek Singhvi told the press, "We do not accept the innuendo and the aspersions cast. This should be the end of the matter. The Congress does not agree with Antulay's statement." Another Congress Party spokesman, Manish Tiwari, followed the next day with, "The Congress in any manner does not endorse Antulay's views." Just as quickly BJP leaders called for Antulay to resign or be sacked.
6. (U) However, on December 21 senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh told the media, "I don't think Antulay made a mistake. What he asked for is a probe. What is objectionable in his statement?" Two days earlier the Congress-led government of Maharashtra rejected a demand for an inquiry into Karkare's death. The opposition BJP took exception to both the substance of Antulay's comments and the Congress Party's inconsistent response. Shouting slogans, the BJP staged a walkout in the parliament three days in a row and demanded a formal clarification from the government. Emboldened by the equivocation, Antulay refused to apologize or retract his statements and said they reflected the views of a large segment of the Muslim population.
...And Finally Dismisses
7. (U) After taking flack for nearly a week, the Congress Party finally gave its official view when Home Minister Chidambaram stated in parliament, "There is no truth whatsoever in the suspicion that there was conspiracy." Chidambaram called Antulay's comments "regrettable." Shortly thereafter Antulay backed down and told the press, "For me the matter is settled." He ruled out his resignation.
Congress Party Plays Cynical Politics
8. (C) Comment: While the killing of three high level law enforcement officers during the Mumbai attacks is a remarkable coincidence, the Congress Party's initial reaction to Antulay's outrageous comments was correct. But as support seemed to swell among Muslims for Antulay's unsubstantiated claims, crass political opportunism swayed the thinking of some Congress Party leaders. What's more, the party made the cynical political calculation to lend credence to the conspiracy even after its recent emboldening state elections victories. The party chose to pander to Muslims' fears, providing impetus for those in the Muslim community who will continue to play up the conspiracy theory. While cooler heads eventually prevailed within the Congress leadership, the idea that the party would entertain such outlandish claims proved once again that many party leaders are still wedded to the old identity politics. The seventy-nine year old Antulay was probably bewildered to find that his remarks, similar in vein to what he would have routinely made in the past to attack the BJP, created such a furor this time. End Comment. MULFORD