WikiLeaks cable on Rahul Gandhi

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 004700

SIPDIS
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR SCA/INS, DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PINR PARM ENRG IN
SUBJECT: THE SON ALSO RISES: RAHUL GANDHI TAKES ANOTHER
STEP TOWARDS TOP JOB

REF: A. NEW DELHI 4638
B. NEW DELHI 4589
C. CHENNAI 605
D. MUMBAI 578

Classified By: PolCouns Ted Osius for reasons 1.4 (B,D)

1. (C) Summary: Congress Party supremo Sonia Gandhi
appointed son Rahul Gandhi to a senior position in the
Congress Party on September 24, a move that gives Rahul a
formal role in the party organization and is seen as ensuring
a clear line of dynastic succession. The appointment came as
part of a larger reorganization and reshuffle of the party in
Delhi and in some key states, signaling that the party has
begun to revamp for elections, whether they are held early or
on schedule in 2009. As part of the reorganization, Sonia
Gandhi promoted some young Members of Parliament (many close
to Rahul) to key party positions in an attempt to re-brand
the party as youthful and energetic. She later hinted to the
press that a cabinet reshuffle may bring some young MPs into
government soon to mirror their promotion in the party
organization. The immediate impact of the Rahul appointment
may be to bring new blood to the small coterie of advisors
who surround Sonia Gandhi. As party General Secretary in
charge of youth affairs, Rahul now occupies the same position
his father did en route to becoming the Prime Minister. The
political landscape that Rahul steps into, however, is much
more difficult than what his father encountered in the 1980s.
  The Congress Party is no longer the dominant political force it then was.  Its power base amongst its traditional
Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin coalition has eroded considerably.
The best it can hope for in the foreseeable future is heading
coalition governments with unpredictable partners. Also,
Rahul is widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to
prove wrong those who dismiss him as a light weight. To do
so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy
and stamina. He will need to get his hands dirty in the
untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics. End
Summary.

Here Comes the Son
------------------

2. (SBU) In a September 24 announcement that grabbed media
headlines, the Congress Party appointed Rahul Gandhi its
General Secretary for affairs relating to the Youth Congress
and the National Students Union of India, the students 'wing
of the Congress party. As one of a handful of AICC General
Secretaries of the All India Congress Committee, he will

SIPDIS
automatically become one of about 20 members of the Congress
Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of
the party.   Gandhi's elevation to the inner-sanctum of the
party comes after nearly two years of pleading by many
Congress Party workers and family loyalists.   Rahul himself
had publicly deferred a role within the party, citing his
desire to learn more before taking a leadership position.

Rites of Passage
----------------

3. (SBU) Rahul Gandhi's promotion is being portrayed as a
family rite of passage in the media. Father Rajiv Gandhi was
appointed to the same position en route to becoming Prime
Minister. Grandmother Indira Gandhi and great-grandfather
Jawaharlal Nehru held important party positions as well
before they became Prime Ministers.

Grooming the Heir
-----------------

4. (SBU) A day later, in a well-choreographed event designed
to demonstrate his effectiveness as a political leader, Rahul
Gandhi led a delegation of AICC officials to meet the Prime
Minister to request expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the UPA government's signature
program to pass on the benefits of India's economic growth to
the rural poor. Gandhi demanded that the program be extended
to entire country from the 300 districts which it now covers.
  The Prime Minister pledged to give the issue serious
consideration, although some observers say it is a done deal and will be announced soon.

5. (U) Gandhi next made his debut on the international stage
when he flew a few days later with his mother to New York
where world leaders had gathered for UNGA meetings. Sonia
and Rahul participated in international tributes to Mahatma
Gandhi and the UN designation of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday as the International Day of Non-violence.
They were feted by the Indian community in New York.

Party Reorganization: Prelude to a Poll? ---------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The Gandhi appointment came as part of a larger
reshuffle in the party secretariat and reorganization of
party units in some key states. This fueled speculation that
the country was headed towards snap mid-term elections. Talk
of early elections subsided quickly, however, when on October 12 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party president
Sonia Gandhi publicly softened their stand in their face-off with the Left parties on the US-India civil nuclear agreement
(Refs A, B). Sonia Gandhi's unequivocal assertion that the
Congress Party would work to ensure the UPA government
completes its five year term has decreased the prospects of a
mid-term election. Nonetheless, the party reorganization
suggests that the Congress Party is revamping itself for
elections, whether they are held early or on schedule in
2009.

7. (U) Sonia Gandhi appointed five new faces to the CWC
while dropping eleven members or "invitees" in the party
reorganization. In addition to reconstituting the party's
media committee and manifesto committee, she appointed four
new AICC General Secretaries (including Rahul) and 10 new AICC Secretaries. She also announced changes in party
leadership in four states -- Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarkhand,
Uttar Pradesh -- where the party has suffered serious
setbacks in the last state elections.

A Changing of the Guard?
------------------------

8. (SBU) The Congress Party highlighted the increased
responsibilities given in the reorganization to a cadre
of young and energetic MPs. In addition to Rahul Gandhi, at
least five -- Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sandeep Dikshit, Sachin
Pilot, Priya Dutt and Jitin Prasad -- were installed at
various levels in the party hierarchy. Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh was appointed to head a group to look
into "Future Challenges." This attention to younger MPs and
emphasis on the "future" suggests that the Congress Party is
trying to position itself as the party for the young and the
next generation and contrast it with the aging leadership of
the BJP and some of its regional rivals. With about 70 percent
of India's population below 35, there is a huge
potential payoff for any product that appeals to the young.

Cabinet Reshuffle?
-----------------

9. (SBU) The Congress Party reorganization also led to a
flurry of stories about the prospects of a cabinet reshuffle
as the UPA government prepares for elections, whether in 2008
or in 2009. In an interaction with the press on October 11,
Sonia Gandhi hinted that young MPs may find a place in the
cabinet to mirror their increased prominence. Any cabinet
reshuffle that occurs would also likely address claims of two
UPA allies. Former Coal Minister Shibu Soren of the small
Jharkhan Mukti Morcha party wants his job back after a higher
court overturned his conviction in a murder case. He had
been forced to resign from the cabinet in 2006 when a lower
court found him complicit in the 1994 murder of a member
of his staff. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, as one
of the larger UPA constituents, has been pressing for
additional representation in the cabinet.

Reaction --------

10. (SBU) Congress Party officials and workers reacted with
enthusiasm and fanfare to the elevation of Rahul Gandhi and
the infusion of the younger MPs into the organizational
structure. Unfortunately for them, the buzz surrounding the
appointment was short-lived. It was overshadowed immediately
by euphoric nation-wide celebrations when India lifted the
cricket Twenty-20 World Cup on September 24 by defeating arch-rivals Pakistan. The BJP dismissed the Gandhi
appointment as predictable and a non-event. BJP leader
Venkaiah Naidu said, "The Congress is known for its dynastic
politics. It is their dynasty; the Congress has a right to
appoint anyone it wants."

11. (SBU) The press stayed with the Rahul Gandhi and "young
blood" story for a few days, with most independent columnists
and editorials in general agreement that the Rahul Gandhi
appointment was inevitable, on balance positive for the
party, but not a panacea for the challenges facing the
Congress Party as it has serious organizational work to do in
preparing for the next Parliamentary election. A veteran
Hindustan Times journalist told Poloff that for the first
time in two decades the Congress Party has a clearly
designated successor in place, which adds policy stability
and organizational steadiness to the party going forward.
Noting that Rahul Gandhi is the only young Indian political figure with nation-wide appeal, the journalist felt that
Gandhi could help enhance Congress Party prospects with those
who see the "next generation" as India's hope. He felt that
the most significant immediate impact of the Gandhi
appointment will be to "sideline the old brigade." The
coterie of advisors such as Ahmed Patel, Oscar Fernandes and
Ambika Soni who surround Sonia Gandhi will see their power
diminish as party officials and workers from around the
country now have someone even closer to the center of power
to go to for decisions, guidance and complaints.

Comment: Son Rise
-----------------

12. (C) Rahul Gandhi's appointment to a senior party post is
another step in the carefully calibrated grooming of Rahul
Gandhi to eventually follow his father, grandmother and
great-grandfather to higher office. Earlier this year, Rahul
Gandhi led the party's campaign in the Uttar Pradesh (UP)
elections. Although the party put in a dismal performance,
Gandhi no doubt gained valuable experience from the rough and
tumble of a UP campaign. His new AICC job will allow him to
acquire organizational experience as well as build an
independent constituency for himself among the younger cadres
and future leaders of the party.

13. (C) Much has been made about Rahul Gandhi taking a
party post once occupied by his father en route to becoming the
Prime Minister. The political landscape that Rahul steps
into, however, is very different from what Rajiv Gandhi
encountered in the eighties. The Congress Party then was by
far the most dominant political force in the country. Except
for a brief post-Emergency period, it had been in power
continuously since independence. It had a clear majority in
Parliament. It controlled most key state governments.
Opposition parties, including the BJP-precursor Jan Sangh,
were mere irritants to Congress Party rule. Rahul Gandhi
enters the national stage in starkly different circumstances.
  The Congress Party is a much weakened entity. The
Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin coalition that kept it in power for so
long has unraveled. The party no longer has a presence in
Uttar Pradesh, once the seat of its power in Delhi.
Regional parties have gained at the expense of the Congress Part as
they have better harnessed regional aspirations. Coalition
government is the rule rather than the exception in Delhi.
More recently, the party has been weakened by its reversal on
the US-India civil nuclear agreement (Ref A) as well as in some
pockets by the Ram Sethu controversy (Ref C). The upcoming Gujarat elections (Ref D) will provide a key test of the Congress Party's
strength and its willingness to risk early national elections.

14. (C) Little is known about Rahul Gandhi's personal
political beliefs, if any. He is reticent in public, has
shunned the spotlight, and has yet to make any significant
intervention in Parliament. His singular foray to center
stage during the UP elections was unremarkable. He is widely
viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those
who dismiss him as a lightweight. To do so he will have to
demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina. He will
need to develop his own networks of loyalists and operators.
He will need to engage with coalition allies and cross words
with the opposition. In sum, he will need to get his hands
dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian
politics. Relying solely on family inheritance may get him
the top job but it will not be enough to make for a successful
long-term political career in India. As for the younger MPs who
have been promoted, they are smart, articulate and energetic.
Their ascension makes for a good story-line. Their achievement
and success during the last three years and half years,
however, has been modest. In order to succeed in the next
election the Congress Party will need to do more than simply
don a younger face.
MULFORD



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