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Classified By: DCM Robert O. Blake, Jr. for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (S) In a March 1 conversation with Poloff, influential columnist and political insider Saeed Naqvi commented on Rahul Gandhi at some length. Naqvi prefaced his remarks by noting that he was a personal friend of Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, and a well-wisher of the Gandhi family. Naqvi was initially delighted when Sonia Gandhi projected Rahul as the heir apparent, but has since lost faith. He claims that the word among Congress insiders, including those in the coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi, is that Rahul will never become Prime Minister for several reasons. Saying that he “refused to indulge in gossip,” Naqvi claimed that it is increasingly common knowledge that Rahul suffers from “personality problems” of an emotional or psychological nature that are severe enough to prevent him from functioning as PM.
2. (S) Naqvi also claimed that his Congress contacts tell him that Rahul has failed as an MP representing the Gandhi pocket borough in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. Congress purportedly hoped to create a revival campaign in UP based around Rahul and his appeal as a member of the Gandhi dynasty, but has now given up, as he “is causing more harm than good” and operates at cross-purposes to the state Congress leadership. According to Naqvi, Rahul has done nothing for UP except to make pro-forma appearances in Amethi, and has “made no impression on the people of the state.” This is leading to growing discouragement that Congress will be able revive and take over the state from Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party (SP) any time in the near future. This growing impatience is reportedly fueling internal debates as to whether it would be better for Congress to accept a junior partner status and cultivate an appropriate regional ally, such as Mayawati and her Dalit-based BSP party.
3. (S) Naqvi stated that the Gandhi family always preferred that Rahul’s sister, Priyanka, enter politics, as she was judged to be more intelligent and savvy. Arguing that Sonia Gandhi is an Italian mother, and “like an Indian mother,” has a protective feeling regarding her son, Naqvi speculated that Sonia apparently went against her better judgment and selected Rahul over his sister as “heir apparent.” Naqvi claimed that Gandhi dynastic politics had no future, as the family has run out of prime ministerial candidates with appropriate charisma. Indira Gandhi was the last member of the dynasty capable of being an effective PM and Rajiv would never have won re-election had he not been assassinated. Naqvi implied that the common impression among Congress insiders is that Rahul is far below even his father in political ability.
4. (C) Comment: Naqvi offered an unusually sharp commentary of views we have heard elsewhere. While our Congress contacts invariably hail Sonia as a “visionary leader” with a special feeling for India’s “common man” there are few in the party who are willing to offer such glowing comments on Rahul. Rahul disdains the Delhi social scene, in contrast to most of his political peers. In the few instances we have come across Rahul, he has kept a very low profile and kept mostly to himself or close friends. Despite signs of growing unhappiness from Congress insiders regarding Rahul, however, he continues to be the subject of press reports that rave about his participation in the early January Congress Youth training camp and suggest that he is preparing to take the mantle of the “leader of young India” and “blossoming into a leader with mass acceptability.” During the two-day youth training session, Rahul engaged in interactive discussions ranging from pesticides in cola products — he was against closing the plants — to defending the GOI,s globalization policy and economic reforms. Given this publicity machine that Rahul enjoys, we, unlike Naqvi, are not yet prepared to write him off just yet.