Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06NEWDELHI7358
2006-10-26 13:07:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy New Delhi
Cable title:  

A.K. ANTONY NAMED MINISTER OF DEFENSE

Tags:  PGOV PREL PINR IN 
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 007358 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/INS, DRL, INR/B

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR IN
SUBJECT: A.K. ANTONY NAMED MINISTER OF DEFENSE

REF: NEW DELHI 7338

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 007358

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/INS, DRL, INR/B

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR IN
SUBJECT: A.K. ANTONY NAMED MINISTER OF DEFENSE

REF: NEW DELHI 7338

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


1. (U) In an October 23 cabinet reshuffle, President of India
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam named Former Chief Minister of Kerala A.K.
Antony Minister of Defense. See paragraphs 3-7 for
biographical information on Antony.


2. (C) Our sources tell us that Congress Party President
Sonia Gandhi and PM Singh needed to get Pranab Mukherjee out
of his post as Minister of Defense because he was not
sufficiently zealous in raising funds for the party.
Mukherjee finally accepted the move after receiving
reassurances that he would remain in charge of the many
Ministerial Committees that help him maintain his domestic
power base. The shift of Mukherjee to External Affairs left
open the post of Minister of Defense, which A.K. Antony
accepted. Antony's opponents question his ability to thrive
in this high level, high profile position. His reputation
for integrity is expected to slow down pending deals, as
Antony learns the ropes and carefully examines all contracts,
including pending arms deals with the U.S. Antony will bring
much needed probity to defense acquisitions just before a
large number of big deals are about to be considered.
However, Antony faces a tough challenge since he will be
functioning under the shadow of Mukherjee and under pressure
from the heads of the army, navy, and air force, all of whom
want to replace dated equipment. Managing these
personalities will be a challenge for Antony.

--------------
A Politician with Integrity
--------------


3. (SBU) A former Chief Minister of Kerala, A. K. Antony is a
popular Congress leader in South India with a reputation for
honesty and integrity. A member of the Congress Working
Committee (the party,s highest decision making body) in
charge of Karnataka affairs, Antony is close to Congress
chief Sonia Gandhi, and one of her key advisors and her main
strategist in South Indian politics.


4. (SBU) A popular political activist since his student days,
Antony rose quickly in the Congress party, as president of
the Kerala University Student,s Union, a wing of the

Congress Party. He later headed the Kerala Pradesh Youth
Congress and the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. At age
37, Anthony was named the youngest ever Chief Minister of
Kerala in 1977. Refusing to back Indira Gandhi,s Congress
leadership during the Emergency, Anthony resigned to support
a "Third Force8 coalition of non-Congress left and
democratic parties. He was readmitted into Congress in 1982.



5. (C) Rajiv Gandhi admired Antony,s clean image and
appointed him General Secretary of the All India Congress
Committee and later, President of the Kerala Congress.
Antony won a seat to the Rajya Sabha in 1985 and again in

1991. In 1993 Prime Minister Rao named him Minister for
Civil Supplies. Antony resigned in 1994 to protest
allegations of Ministry inefficiency. In 1995, Rao again
appointed him Kerala Chief Minister, a position he held until

1996. In 2000 Antony led the party to victory in Kerala
elections to become Chief Minister in his own right. He had

NEW DELHI 00007358 002 OF 002


to step down in 2004, however, due to inner party conflicts.

--------------
An Economic Reformer with Limitations
--------------


6. (C) After Antony led the Congress return to power in
Kerala in 2001, the media characterized him as a "born again"
economic reformer who endorsed free-market policies. The
bold nature of some of his policies took many by surprise,
given his previous socialist track record. At the beginning
of his tenure as Chief Minister, Antony initiated reforms to
"change Kerala's (leftist) mindset." Even cynics applauded
when in March 2002, Antony enforced fiscal discipline,
defeating a 32 day government employees' strike that demanded
reinstatement of unaffordable perks. Antony's determination
to carry out an Asian Development Bank-aided "Modernization
of Government Plan" was another indicator of his commitment
to economic reform. He also liberalized education by
allowing several private engineering and medical colleges to
open in Kerala and championed the state as an investment
destination. His push for legislation to curb strident labor
demands won him immense middle class support.


7. (C) Antony has at various points in his career succumbed
to Leftist pressure and the demands of his constituents, for
example ordering the closure of the Kerala Coca Cola plant in
2004 citing drought and the non-availability of drinking
water.

--------------
Personal Background
--------------


6. (C) Born December 28, 1940 to a middle class Christian
family in Chertalai near Alleppy, Antony earned a B.A. and
B.L. (Bachelor of Law) from Kerala University. A professed
atheist, Antony keeps a distance from the Roman Catholic
Church, to which his family traditionally belongs. When he
was a boy, his father had a property dispute with a local
Catholic Church. As a result, the Church later refused to
give Antony's father ceremonial burial in the church
cemetery, triggering Antony's skepticism. Earlier in his
career, he consistently questioned the Church's motives in
education and advocated greater government oversight. In
recent years, his opposition to the Church has waned. His
wife Elizabeth is a devout Catholic who works at Canara Bank.
They have two sons, Anil and Ajit, both students.


7. (C) Antony has traveled to Japan, France, the UK, the
former USSR, and Yugoslavia. He refused an International
Visitor (IV) grant offer from the USG in the 1980s, anxious
to avoid leftist criticism. In meetings, Antony comes across
as soft-spoken, serious, and unassuming. Always clad in
cottage-spun Khadi (handspun cotton),dhoti, and shirt, his
appearance reflects his "Gandhian simplicity." Antony has
been frugal with time and hospitality, has preferred short
meetings, and usually avoids offering visitors the customary
coffee and snacks. His English is basic, adequate for
substantive conversation related to his work, but not good
enough for small talk.
PYATT