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'Mamata drama queen, Jaswant grumpy old man'

Mamata Banerjee is a drama queen and Jaswant Singh is a grumpy old man. Here is what US cables made accessible by Wikileak have to say about Indian leaders.

india Updated: Sep 04, 2011 15:37 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

Mamata Banerjee is a drama queen and Jaswant Singh is a grumpy old man. Here is what US cables made accessible by Wikileak have to say about Indian leaders.

"Mamata Banerjee: fighter and drama queen"
That's the assessment of US consulate in Kolkata (unclassified file but for official use only)in March 2009.

"Fearless, temperamental and aggressive, Mamata Banerjee has often been likened to a tigress. Due to her unpredictable and high-strung nature, she has succeeded in occupying the political limelight in West Bengal as no other politician has", says the cable.

She will continue to ride the anti-land acquisition and populist wave, although her popularity with the farmers as the "woman that made Ratan Tata say 'ta ta' to West Bengal" does not sit well with industrialists in the city.

However, on the other hand, some are secretly encouraged by the healthy dose of political competition in the state as it may break the deadlock and perceived sloth of the Left Front.

The common man identifies with her unsophisticated and humble ways, not least because she continues to live as an unmarried woman with her mother in the one room tenement where she grew up.

She can mobilize a crowd in minutes and has a keen eye towards theatrics, whether with an impromptu song at the local shopping center festival, or symbolically carrying the bloodied land of "Nandigram martyrs" throughout the state with her own campaign.

However, her dominance and the cult of personality have left the party institutionally weak, but one with a clear leader. Her challenge is to overcome the criticism that she is "irrational" and "unpredictable", criticism earned even during her previous stints as Minister in Delhi, and prove that she can, and is ready to, govern the state of West Bengal.

NSA Menon "not reflexively pro-US"

The US embassy in New Delhi has made some assessment of national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. The cable of Januray 10, 2010 from the US embassy in New Delhi also says his predecessor Narayanan's departure from the post signals the end of a bureaucratic tussle with home minister Chidambaram for authority over internal security.

Erudite and polished, Menon is an intellectually formidable, pragmatic, eloquent proponent of India's national interest and well known to the US officials, says the cable. “ His tenure as Foreign Secretary, serving under then-external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, coincided with an unprecedented transformation in India's relationship with the United States, despite Menon having never served in or spent considerable time in the United States”, says the cable.

"He sees the strategic value of the US-India relationship, but is not reflexively pro-American, " goes the assessment. He took a hard line on a variety of issues over the course of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement negotiations, including at a critical moment during the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) deliberations, but also skillfully piloted critical decisions through the Indian bureaucracy.

He expressed surprise that the FBI role in the investigation into the 26/11 Mumbai attacks did not generate more controversy, but thus reassured, later advocated a more robust cooperative relationship on counterterrorism.

MK Narayanan: "difficult not to be seen making the effort for Headley's extradition"
The US officials had tried to get a commitment that New Delhi would not seek extradition of David Coleman Headley, a prime conspirator of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

A US cable dated 17 December 2009, reveals that "Ambassador Roemer pressed national security advisor MK Narayanan in a telephone call December 16 for progress on civil nuclear implementation, assurances about the protection of sensitive information, and a commitment not to seek extradition in the Headley case." "Narayanan", the cable writes, "said he understood the importance of protecting sensitive information about the Headley case and dismissed media reports as "preposterous."

Pressed for his commitment on behalf of the Indian government not to request Headley's extradition, Narayanan replied that it was "difficult not to be seen making the effort," but that the government was not seeking extradition "at this time."

MK Narayanan's removal strategic victory for Chidambaram
On January 22, 2010, US ambassador in India Timothy Roemer sent a cable on Shivshankar Menon's appointment as India's new National Security Advisor. The US embassy praised Menon but noted that the MK Narayanan's departure from the post signals the end of a bureaucratic tussle with home minister Chidambaram for authority over internal security.

Also, Menon will oversee a leaner portfolio. “Menon is loyal to Prime Minister Singh. He stayed out of the press during the six months since his retirement as Foreign Secretary, but contacts report that he has been briefed regularly on Pakistan at the highest levels of government”, the cable said.

According to the cable, outgoing NSA Narayanan told the Ambassador during a private meeting that Menon would not retain dominance on the full range of strategic issues, including defense, space, intelligence, and India's nuclear programs.

PM compelled to induct Soren under political pressure
A cable from the New Delhi's US embassy, sent by Robert O Blake (Deputy Chief of Mission) said the first reshuffle of the UPA cabinet in 2004 November was to shore up the ruling coalition.

In the reshuffle, JMM chief Shibu Soren was inducted (later he had to resign), The minister of labor and employment Sis Ram Ola was shifted to ministry of mines and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) K Chandrasekhara Rao—then a minister without portfolio—was given the Labor portfolio.

The cable says, "PM Singh has a reputation for probity and reportedly opposed bringing Soren into the cabinet, but felt compelled to do so by the pressures of coalition politics.

Likewise, Rao's TRS had threatened to withdraw from the UPA if it did not separate Telangana from Karnataka and create a new state. Rather than give in to the TRS, Congress agreed to set up a sub-committee to look into the issue and placated Rao.

US on minister Shashi Tharoor
The cable dated October 2, 2009 is after then US ambassador to India Timothy Roemer meeting with then minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, whom he found a "valuable interlocutor" for India-US ties.

"Tharoor does not have direct responsibility for Indo-US ties, but will be a valuable interlocutor because of his high-profile UN background, GOI(Government of India) connections, and the significant amount of time he has spent living and working in the US, says the cable.

"He is increasingly becoming the face of the MEA given EAM Krishna's underwhelming performance. We'll continue to reach out to Tharoor and engage him on a wide array of topics of mutual interest, including UN cooperation, climate change, and nonproliferation", said the cable.

Cables call Jaswant Singh and Natwar Singh "grumpy old men"
"Two grumpy old men, Natwar Singh of Congress and Jaswant Singh of the BJP, have made unwise decisions that will likely end their political careers," describes a diplomatic cable on August 11, 2006, from the US embassy in New Delhi.

Both Natwar and Jaswant Singh epitomize high-caste pride and unwillingness to admit to error, reasons the cable that talks about the development of two former foreign ministers flaying their own parties.

The US is peeved at both of them having allied themselves with an anti-US group in Parliament which the press has called the "nuclear club" because of its hostility to the US/India Civil Nuclear Accord. Other members include former BJP foreign minister Yashwant Singh (Sinha), CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury, SP general secretary Amar Singh, and Janata Dal-U leader Digvijay Singh.

Incidentally, Jaswant Singh is credited with working for a turn-around in the India-US relationship. And his long parleys with former US deputy secretary of state, Singh meeting 14 times in seven countries on three continents in one of the most intriguing diplomatic events in recent history.

'Krishna choice of Sonia Gandhi'
"Krishna was the choice of Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi. They reportedly met when Krishna worked closely with Rajiv Gandhi as a lower level minister in Indira Gandhi's government during the early 1980's," says a cable about SM Krishna being appointed as the external affairs minister.

The cable dated Jan 12, 2009 says Krishna is not a political heavyweight along the lines of Mukherjee, nor does he have a well-established international reputation of his own, such as the newly appointed MEA minister of state and former UN official Shashi Tharoor.

Krishna is, therefore, not viewed as someone who will stir things up or will be a political threat or rival to anyone in the Congress Party leadership today or in the future, says the cable.

First Published: Sep 03, 2011 22:00 IST