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09NEWDELHI559 2009-03-24 13:37:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy New Delhi
Cable title:  

BHARAT BALLOT 2009: THE "OTHER" GANDHI FACES HATE

Tags:   PGOV PTER PREL PINR KDEM IN 
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Varun Gandhi, until now the lesser-known
grandson of Indira Gandhi and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
Lok Sabha aspirant, burst onto the national scene when an
election campaign video caught him delivering anti-Muslim
remarks. The video footage, played in a continuous loop on
Indian news channels over the weekend, shows Varun
denigrating Muslims while addressing an election rally in his
parliamentary constituency in northern Uttar Pradesh. The
Election Commission, which is overseeing the April-May
general election, filed a notice against Varun on March 18
for violating the Election Model Code of Conduct and advised
the BJP not to run Gandhi as a candidate. The BJP has
refused to withdraw Varun's candidacy, arguing that the
Commission had over-stepped its mandate. Varun's virulent
statements will likely damage the BJP's standing among
secular and minority voters nationwide. However, political
observers agree that the speech will help to consolidate the
Hindu vote bank in Uttar Pradesh ahead of April-May
parliamentary elections. End Summary.

Caught on Tape: Gandhi Scion Delivers Hate Speech
---



2. (SBU) Uttar Pradesh state authorities on March 18 filed
criminal charges against 29-year old Varun Gandhi, the late
Sanjay Gandhi's son, after video footage emerged of him
delivering anti-Muslim remarks at a political rally earlier
in March. In tapes aired by local media last week, Varun
encouraged his audience to "Go to your villages and give the
call that all Hindus must unite to save this area from
becoming Pakistan." Varun is shown vowing to cut off the
hands and chop the necks of Muslims who threaten Hindus.
"After the election (this hand) will cut the necks of
Muslims. Hail Lord Ram," he exclaimed with palms raised
toward the crowd. Officials in Uttar Pradesh filed a
criminal case against Varun for "promoting hatred." If
convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of five years in
prison. Varun has instantly become a rising star within the
Hindu nationalist BJP and is the party candidate from
Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. His mother, Maneka Gandhi, held the
seat for four terms and was Cabinet Minister of Environmental
Affairs in the BJP-led coalition in 1999-2004.

EC Censors, BJP Firmly Behind Varun
---



3. (SBU) India's Election Commission (EC) on March 22 ruled
that Varun's remarks were in violation of the Election Model
Code of Conduct. In a ten-page ruling, the EC stated that
Varun's speech promoted "hatred and ill-will" toward the
Indian Muslim community. The commission further advised the
BJP to withdraw Varun's Lok Sabha candidacy, adding that the
party would be perceived as "endorsing" a communal agenda.



4. (SBU) The BJP, however, rejected the EC action, saying
Varun was its candidate for the Philibhit constituency and
accusing the EC of overstepping its mandate in advising the
party on candidate selection. BJP spokesman Balbir Punja
slammed the EC decision as an "unprecedented" attempt to
"redefine the contours of democratic practices." BJP General
Secretary Arun Jaitley noted that under the law the EC can
only bar a candidate from contesting elections only if he or
she has been convicted and sentenced for more than three
years.

Varun: Videa Was Doctored
---



5. (U) Last week, Varun denied any wrong doing as his
virulent speech crowded media airwaves nationwide. Though
Varun does not deny making controversial remarks, he insisted
the videos had been "doctored" and that he was the "victim"
of a political conspiracy. "This is not my voice, those are
not my words. I've a soft voice, (but in the video) I sound
like (Bollywood star) Amitabh Bachchan." In response to the

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EC censure, he accused the Commission of political bias.
Varun pointed out that he was denied his "natural democratic
right" to meet the Commission in-person before the judgment
ruling was announced.

Congress, CPM, JDU Outcry Against Varun
---



6. (SBU) The BJP's refusal to withdraw Varun's candidacy
has drawn criticism from several political parties. All
Indian Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Digvijay
Singh advised that all BJP coalition partners should think
twice about their alliance with a party that is "endorsing
the use" of abusive language against minorities. The
Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) said that it was
proof that the BJP continues to support the "communal venom"
of Varun's remarks. "It shows that the party is not in the
least concerned about the Constitution, the democratic norms
and political decency," observed CPI-M member Brinda Karat.
The Janata Dal United party (JDU) chief Sharad Yadav, a BJP
ally in Bihar, has been particularly vocal in criticizing the
BJP. He said the EC was "within its jurisdiction" in
indicting Varun and urged authorities to expedite criminal
proceedings.

BJP Floundered Before Finding a Voice
---



7. (SBU) The BJP appears to have been blindsided initially
by Varun's remarks. A day after the hate speech videos
surfaced, party leaders attempted to play down its political
significance. "We have not heard him say anything like
this," said former BJP President M. Venkaiah Naidu. However,
with every news and cable network playing the hate speech on
continuous loop, the BJP could not afford to keep silent on
the issue. On March 17, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad
told press that the BJP "completely disagrees, dissociates
and disapproves" with the contents of Varun's speech. It was
only after a March 23 meeting that the BJP came out fully
behind Varun, signaling that the BJP sees a net negative if
they jettison Varun. Several contacts surveyed by Poloff
agreed that the speech will ultimately brighten the BJP's
electoral prospects in at least six constituencies in Uttar
Pradesh. They expect more communal tension in the state
closer to the poll dates. According to contacts, by
endorsing Varun, the BJP has formally injected Hindutva into
the campaign.



8. (SBU) Some observers saw more sinister machinations at
work in the controversy. Zaheer Mustafa, editor of the In
Dinon, an Urdu language daily, told us the Varun controversy
is a "well thought out RSS conspiracy." He noted vote banks
within Uttar Pradesh are divided along religious lines and
that ratcheting up Hindutva rhetoric would help consolidate
the Hindu support. Moreover, the RSS-BJP have been planning
to project Varun as the youth face of the Sangh Parivar to
match the stature of his cousin Rahul Gandhi, an emerging
Congress Party leader.

Family Feud in the UP
---



9. (SBU) Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, has
emerged as the battleground state in upcoming elections with
its 80 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs. All four politically
active Nehru-Gandhi members are contesting elections from the
state. Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, are the Congress
Party candidates from Rae Bareli and Amethi districts.
Meanwhile, Varun and his mother, Maneka, will contest from
Pilibhit and Aonla districts as BJP Lok Sabha candidates.
Varun's anti-Muslim remarks were particularly jarring for
many because they come from a member of a family that has
built its political reputation on the notion of a secular
society and tolerance for religious minorities. Sonia and
Rahul have not commented on Varun's alleged remarks.

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Priyanka Gandhi, Sonia's usually reserved daughter,
criticized her cousin during an elections rally in her
mother's constituency on March 23. She stated that Varun's
speech went against the "principles of the Gandhi family and
what the members of this family lived and died for."
Priyanka also recommended that her cousin "properly" read the
Gita, an ancient Hindu text, to understand its message.

Comment: Hindutva: Tried and True BJP Elections Strategy
---



10. (SBU) In the run-up to hotly contest April-May general
elections, Varun Gandhi's anti-Muslim tirade should not come
as a complete surprise. Social tensions generally tend to
rise before Indian elections because many parties, the
Congress and BJP included, believe they benefit at the polls
when the electorate is polarized over certain issues. For
the BJP and the Sangh Parivar this means ramping up Hindutva
themes during elections season in an effort to consolidate
the Hindu vote bank, particularly in states such as Uttar
Pradesh and Gujarat where the Muslim population is sizeable.
The media attention that the speech has garnered has helped
to establish Varun's Hindutva credentials and ensure a bright
future in the BJP. Like Narendra Modi, he will be deployed
by the BJP to campaign in other constituencies and states.
Varun Gandhi has emerged as a formidable opposition force to
the youth wave in the Congress Party, led by his cousin Rahul
Gandhi. End Comment.
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