US cables criticise Sonia Gandhi, Karat: WikiLeaks

Friday, December 17, 2010

WASHINGTON - US diplomats in India accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of failing to show “principled leadership” and called Marxist leader Prakash Karat an “extortionist”, embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks show.

The American assessment of Gandhi followed her failure to overcome the Communist opposition to the India-US civil nuclear deal, the Guardian newspaper said Friday.

Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the most vocal critic of the nuclear deal, was described in one cable as an “extortionist”.

“With the future of Indian foreign credibility hanging in balance, Sonia Gandhi has been unable to show principled leadership even when it might benefit her party at the polls,” said one cable, sent in November 2007.

“Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” it added.

Veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh was described as being from the party’s “Jurassic” wing while former Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who gave up the job after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was called “spectacularly inept”.

Other US cables leaked by WikiLeaks talk about an Aug 3, 2006 meeting between Maria Shriver, wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sonia Gandhi in a positive light.

The meeting lasted an hour and, US diplomats reported, went exceptionally well.

“Usually withdrawn and reserved in public, Gandhi spoke at great length and radiated confidence on women’s issues and some aspects of her private life,” one official wrote to Washington.

“This was a more relaxed Sonia, possibly because she felt a personal rapport with Maria Shriver.”

Some of the more controversial points Gandhi made - such as describing reports of mass sterilisation campaigns under the government of her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi in the 1970s as “highly exaggerated” and “politically motivated” - escaped her interlocutors who were impressed by her “broad knowledge of Indian culture and traditions” and lack of defensiveness about the country’s social problems.

Yet a different reading of the meeting was also possible.

When Shriver congratulated Gandhi for her resoluteness over the years and described her as “courageous”, she was “clearly embarrassed by this adulation” and “made no response”.

When Shriver invited Gandhi to the next women’s conference - the conferences bring 11,000 women to California each year to discuss relevant issues - and reinforced the point that “women can change the world,” Gandhi “made no commitment to attend”.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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