|08NEWDELHI3228||2008-12-23 13:26:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy New Delhi|
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 Karkareâ€™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 Antulayâ€™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, Antulayâ€™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 Chidambaramâ€™s dismissal (and Antulayâ€™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. The entire episode demonstrates that the Congress Party will readily stoop to the old caste/religious-based politics if it feels it is in its interest. End Summary.
Killed in Mumbai Attacks, Karkare Led Investigation into â€œHindu Terrorâ€
2. (U) Indian Minorities Affairs Minister A.R. Antulayâ€™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 Karkareâ€™s investigation of â€œHindu terrorists.â€ 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 BJPâ€™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 Karkareâ€™s killing and his investigation. He offered no evidence to back-up his claims.
-- â€œSuperficially speaking they had no reason to kill Karkare. Whether he was a victim of terrorism or terrorism plus something, I do not know.â€
-- â€œKarkare 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.â€
-- â€œUnfortunately his end came. It may be a separate inquiry how his end came.â€
-- â€œThere is more than what meets the eyes.â€
Congress Party Dismisses...
5. (U) Most Congress Party leaders quickly disassociated the Party from Atulayâ€™s comments. Congress Party spokesman Abishek Singhvi told the press, â€œWe do not accept the innuendo and the aspersions cast. This should be the end of the matter. The Congress does not agree with Antulayâ€™s statement.â€ Another Congress Party spokesman, Manish Tiwari, followed the next day with, â€œThe Congress in any manner does not endorse Antulayâ€™s views.â€ 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, â€œI donâ€™t think Antulay made a mistake. What he asked for is a probe. What is objectionable in his statement?â€ Two days earlier the Congress-led government of Maharashtra rejected a demand for an inquiry into Karkareâ€™s death. The opposition BJP took exception to both the substance of Antulayâ€™s comments and the Congress Partyâ€™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, â€œThere is no truth whatsoever in the suspicion that there was conspiracy.â€ Chidambaram called Antulayâ€™s comments â€œregrettable.â€ Shortly thereafter Antulay backed down and told the press, â€œFor me the matter is settled.â€ 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 Partyâ€™s initial reaction to Antulayâ€™s outrageous comments was correct. But as support seemed to swell among Muslims for Antulayâ€™s unsubstantiated claims, crass political opportunism swayed the thinking of some Congress Party leaders. Whatâ€™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 Muslimsâ€™ 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