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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06NEWDELHI2867 2006-04-27 11:21:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy New Delhi
Cable title:  

EXPECTED SONIA GANDHI ELECTORAL VICTORY NOT ENOUGH

Tags:   PGOV PINR KDEM KISL SCUL IN 
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 002867 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM KISL SCUL IN
SUBJECT: EXPECTED SONIA GANDHI ELECTORAL VICTORY NOT ENOUGH
TO REVIVE THE UTTAR PRADESH CONGRESS PARTY

REF: A. NEW DELHI 2169


B. NEW DELHI 2061

C. NEW DELHI 2021

D. NEW DELHI 552

Classified By: PolCouns Geoff Pyatt for reasons 1.4 (B,D)



1. (C) Summary: Poloff's April 19-21 trip to Uttar Pradesh
(UP) revealed that the political equation has changed since
our previous visit in January. Then, most considered the
ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) to be on its way out. However,
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has since used American
foreign policy stances to energize the crucial Muslim
electorate. Denouncing the US for "anti-Islamic" policies,
Yadav has painted himself as the Indian Muslims' savior and
channeled Muslim anger into support for the SP. Muslims are
the key swing vote in UP and their support could keep the SP
in power. The recent resignation of Congress President Sonia
Gandhi from Parliament has increased her stature in the state
and most observers expect her to win re-election from her Rae
Barelli constituency by a wide margin on May 8. Despite
this, the party's moribund organization and poor state
leadership has prevented Congress from reviving, and it is in
no position to capture state power. Yadav could call an
early election as soon as August. With the BJP and Congress
out of contention, the contest is between the SP and its
regional rival the BSP, with a "race to the bottom" likely on
issues of importance to the US in this nation-sized Indian
state. End Summary.

Wide-Ranging Contacts


--------------------------





2. (U) During an April 19-21 trip to the Uttar Pradesh (UP)
cities of Lucknow, Rae Barelli and Allahabad, Poloff met a
wide range of opinion leaders, including journalists,
academics, social activists and political leaders. In Rae
Barelli, where Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi is
contesting for re-election following her dramatic resignation
from Parliament (Reftel B), he met with campaign managers and
party workers for Congress and the rival Samajwadi Party.

Courting Muslims at US Expense


--------------------------





3. (C) There was a remarkable consensus that the political
situation has shifted since Poloff's last visit in January
(Reftel D). In UP's caste-ridden political environment, most
voters are locked-in to the parties selected by their caste
leaders and the caste equation is just about evenly split
between the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Chief Minister Mulayam
Singh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of former Chief
Minister Mayawati. This has made Muslims the crucial swing
electorate, as they are largely free to shift from one party
to another. With his government under attack and shaky,
Yadav has gone to extraordinary lengths to recruit and
maintain Muslim loyalty. He has accused the US of
implementing an "anti-Islamic" policy, and taken a militant
stance on the Danish cartoon controversy, the GOI's anti-Iran
vote in the IAEA, the US roles in Iraq and Palestine, and
most recently the publication of articles alleging that the
US has plans to mount military strikes against Iranian
nuclear facilities. This has convinced many Muslims that the
SP best represents their interests. While such issues are of
little interest to Indian Hindus, Friday sermons by fiery
imams in some mosques have energized the Muslim masses.


NEW DELHI 00002867 002 OF 004




4. (C) Several interlocutors accused the SP of engineering
communal riots in UP provincial towns, most recently in
Aligarh, in order to win Muslims' appreciation for the
government's "protection." They alleged that the SP hopes to
increase Muslim insecurity to convince Muslim voters that
they have no option but to back the SP. They also claimed
that the party has extended government support to Muslim
extremists such as Kalbe Jawad and Fazlur Rehman, who have
issued provocative anti-US statements and organized anti-US
demonstrations. The SP and its Muslim allies are purportedly
telling Muslims that the US is set to invade Iran as part of
a "master plan" to "defeat Islam," and that only Mulayam
Singh Yadav will stand up to Washington.

A Divided Opposition


--------------------------





5. (C) While Congress, the BJP and BSP want to depose
Yadav, they are unable to work together. All our
interlocutors agreed that no national party can come to power
in Lucknow, and that Congress and the BJP must remain out of
the government, or ally with a regional party. Several
informants, including leading figures from the state Congress
Party, confirmed that BSP and Congress are growing closer
together, but seem unable or unwilling to conclude a formal
alliance. Congress leaders complained that regional parties
have converted UP politics into a gangsters paradise
dominated by hired gunmen, and that it would be better to
"take the high road" and not participate, even if it means a
spell in the political wilderness. Congress is debating
whether to concede short-term power to the regionals,
re-build local strength and come back with a solid majority
at some future date as the champion of "clean values." All
agreed that the common man is "fed-up" with violence and
corruption and will eventually desert the regional parties if
presented with a clear-cut alternative.

Congress and BJP In the Doldrums


--------------------------





6. (C) UP opinion leaders from across the political spectrum
agreed that Sonia Gandhi's dramatic resignation from
Parliament had increased her stature and that of her family.
However, they did not expect this to revive the
largely-dormant party. Congress is "running flat," they
insisted, and cannot expand its support beyond the committed
few. Most predicted that Congress would continue to hold its
own, but with no credible UP leadership and a hollow
organization, cannot make a dramatic turnaround. Congress
leaders and well-connected journalists told Poloff that the
failure of President's rule in Bihar had convinced the
Congress leadership that this is no longer a viable option
and they are no longer considering it.



7. (C) If Congress is stagnant, the BJP is in decline.
Informants agreed that the party would experience serious
electoral reversals in upcoming contests, as its Hindu
nationalist agenda was no longer widely relevant. Asserting
that former Prime Minister AB Vajapyee's charisma was largely
responsible for BJP successes, several pointed out that many
have deserted the party after his departure from politics,
and no current or potential BJP leader can replace him.

The View From Ayodhya


--------------------------





8. (C) In an April 19 conversation with Poloff, the Raja of

NEW DELHI 00002867 003 OF 004


Ayodhya asserted that all was calm in the city, despite last
summer's terrorist attack and the presence in UP of LK Advani
and Hindutva leaders. In his view, the BJP will not be able
to revive the Ram Temple issue, as the BJP has "run out of
steam." LK Advani's recent attempt to stage a rally in
Ayodhya was attended by under 200 persons, the Raja claimed.
He predicted that BJP efforts to foment communal violence in
UP to unite Hindus behind a revived Hindutva agenda would
fail. The Raja dismissed the recent appointment of UP
politician Rajnath Singh as BJP Party President as a mark of
desperation, as he is known in the state as a close associate
of criminal gangs.

The SP Puts on a Brave Front


--------------------------





9. (U) When Poloff arrived in Rae Barelli on April 20, the
political campaign was in full swing. Congress had hung
party banners along the entire length of the principal
highway and put up billboards bearing enormous pictures of
Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka. Signs,
posters and banners of other parties were hardly evident.
The contest in Rae Barelli is between Mrs. Gandhi and Raj
Kumar Chaudhury of the SP, as no other party plays a
significant role in the constituency. In a silent
endorsement of Sonia, the BSP declined to put forth a
candidate. SP candidate Chaudhury is a local businessman,
with a medical supply company, who is running as a "son of
the soil," determined to wrest the constituency away from
"foreigners."

But It Will Be a Congress Walkover


--------------------------





10. (C) Relaxed Congress leaders told Poloff that Sonia
Gandhi would win back her seat by the widest margin ever
recorded in Rae Barelli. One campaigner expressed some anger
that Sonia had resigned without first telling her
constituency, but predicted that everyone would fall into
line and vote as expected. The Congress leaders asserted
that Sonia Gandhi's repeated "sacrifices for the nation," and
her effective rebuttal of opposition attacks have nullified
the "foreign issue" and that Rae Barelli has accepted her.
In the 2004 election her victory margin was 300,000. The
Congress goal is to raise it to 500,000 in this contest.
They pointed out that Mrs. Gandhi has not only resigned from
her Parliamentary seat, but from 13 trusts and the presidency
of the National Advisory Commission (NAC) effectively
silencing her opposition critics. This, they argued, has
increased the peoples' confidence in her leadership and all
castes and communities now support her. This is especially
true of local Muslims, who prefer Congress to any regional
party.

Leading to a State Revival Campaign


--------------------------


Q11. (C) Rae Barelli Congress leaders hoped that a expected
Gandhi walkover would allow the party to implement a planned
grass-roots revival campaign. Congress will then accuse the
SP of murdering its opponents and fomenting communal riots
and ask for Muslim support to bring peace to the state. The
centerpiece of the campaign will be a state-wide tour by
Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. After the family visits a
location, Congress organizers will remain behind to
re-establish the local party. Congress hopes to use the
Gandhi charisma to convince Brahmins to return (despite their

NEW DELHI 00002867 004 OF 004


Christian antecedents, most in UP view the Gandhis as
Brahmins by caste.)



12. (C) Congress hopes to be known as the "progressive"
party that provides an alternative to the "backward looking"
parties (the BJP and the regionals). One prominent Congress
leader asserted that the Congress campaign will revive the
"politics of principal," and predicted that Congress will
"take the high road" after years of caste and regional
politics, to counter the "low road" of the SP. He noted that
Congress decided not to enlist its own "gunmen" to counter
the violence and intimidation of the SP, but will instead
emphasize "sacrifice" and project Sonia Gandhi.

The Political Scenario


--------------------------





13. (C) Assembly elections are scheduled in UP in February


2007. Under the Constitution, the Chief Minister can call
early elections up to six months before the scheduled date.
Most agreed that if CM Yadav concludes that he has
sufficiently energized the Muslim vote, he could call for a
poll as early as August 2006 with a good chance of winning.
BSP and Congress could announce an informal seat-sharing
arrangement during the election, with a possible coalition
afterwards. If the election were held today, most expect the
BJP to lose up to half of its current 88 MLA's. An SP
victory over the BSP could be by a narrow margin, with each
party winning approximately 125 seats in the 402 seat house.
Congress would likely retain a number close to its current 25
seats.

Comment


--------------------------





14. (C) The changing political scenario in UP illustrates
how US foreign policy can impact Indian domestic politics.
Although Congress desperately wants to recover its position
in UP, its support for US policies has provided its opponents
with a ready-made issue. The UPA's position will become even
more brittle if, as expected, Congress does poorly when state
election results are announced on May 11. Likewise, the
mercenary SP is determined to hold on to power in Lucknow and
is not averse to using Islamic extremism and America bashing
to retain its grip on the key Muslim electorate. Although
the Gandhi family continues to capture the popular
imagination in UP, Congress has not converted this charisma
into a political asset. Just a few months ago, the SP looked
to be on its way out. Now, the electoral outcome is too
close to call. Should the SP lose the next election, the
BSP, with or without Congress support, will return to power.
Unlike its SP rival, the BSP has not criticized the US, and
would likely move quickly to restore friendly ties between
the USG and the government in UP, a state larger than
Pakistan, Russia or Brazil.



15. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website:
(http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)
BLAKE