US embassy cable - 04CHENNAI1470

BJP'S BID TO EXPLOIT PONTIFF'S ARREST A FLOP IN TAMIL NADU

Identifier: 04CHENNAI1470
Wikileaks: View 04CHENNAI1470 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2004-11-23 09:23:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV PHUM SOCI IN Indian Domestic Politics
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS E F T O SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 001470 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
NOFORN 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, SOCI, IN, Indian Domestic Politics 
SUBJECT: BJP'S BID TO EXPLOIT PONTIFF'S ARREST A FLOP IN 
TAMIL NADU 
 
REF: CHENNAI 1418 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY:  Although the BJP and Viswa Hindu 
Parishad (VHP) shouted themselves hoarse about the arrest 
of Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, their protests have 
fallen on deaf ears in Tamil Nadu.  A call for a bundh 
(strike) failed, no non-Brahmin parties joined the 
protests, and even Tamil Brahmins are not up in arms.  This 
poorly conceived maneuver is isolating the BJP from the 
local parties and is highlighting the lack of resonance in 
the South of BJP-style Hindutva.  END SUMMARY. 
 
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BJP BUNDH IN TN: FULL OF SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING NOTHING 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
2. (SBU) Following the arrest of Shankaracharya Jayendra 
Saraswathi on November 11 for conspiracy to murder 
(reftel), the BJP and VHP organized a series of protests to 
capitalize on alleged public anger.  However, the 
demonstrations gained little to no traction in Tamil Nadu. 
The latest, a nationwide "bundh" or general strike, led to 
isolated incidents of stone throwing in Tamil Nadu, but 
otherwise failed to disrupt daily life.  Business in 
Chennai continued as usual. 
 
---------------------------------------- 
DMK QUESTIONS THE MOTIVES FOR THE ARREST 
---------------------------------------- 
 
3. (SBU/NF) After an earlier intense campaign for the 
Shankaracharya's arrest, DMK President M.K. Karunanidhi has 
now attributed "political and personal motives" to the 
chief minister's decision to arrest the pontiff. 
Karunanidhi congratulated the police for their success and 
termed the arrest "an honest act, he said, "As far as 
Jayalalithaa is concerned, there is a background of 
vindictiveness."  According to G.C. Shekar (protect), a 
senior Chennai-based journalist, Karunanidhi may be 
receiving inside information on the investigation from the 
principal investigating officer, Superintendent of Police 
Shaktivelu.  "Karunanidhi might have heard from 
(Shaktivelu) that the evidence linking the Shankaracharya 
to the murders is not firm.  So he might have wanted to 
have a political escape route for himself," Shekar 
speculated.  Other press reports hypothesized that 
Karunanidhi was attempting to back off from a cause that 
was directly benefiting his political rival. 
 
--------------------------------- 
OTHER LOCAL PARTIES KEEPING QUIET 
--------------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU/NF) Rather than using the Shankaracharya issue 
to further their own political agendas, the majority of the 
local parties in Tamil Nadu have remained silent about the 
arrest.  Neither the MDMK, the PMK, the Congress Party, nor 
the Dalit Panthers have spoken out against the arrest or 
joined the VHP's protests.  According to R.K. Radhakrishnan 
(protect), a senior correspondent for The Hindu, "Except 
the Brahmins, nobody is bothered (by the arrest)."  Less 
than 3% of Tamil Nadu's population is Brahmin, and the 
other parties do not readily take up Brahmin causes. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
TAMIL BRAHMINS UPSET, BUT NOT TAKING IT TO THE STREETS 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
5. (SBU/NF) Tamil Brahmins are shocked and upset by the 
Shankaracharya's arrest, but are not participating in great 
numbers in the BJP/VHP protests.  According to 
Radhakrishnan, the Brahmin community is instead "engaged in 
their highest form of protest: writing letters to the 
editor of The Hindu."  More than anger at the arrest 
itself, the prevailing feeling amongst Tamil Brahmins seems 
to be resentment over the post-arrest treatment of the 
pontiff.  "Ninety percent of the Brahmins feel the 
Shankaracharya should have been treated more respectfully 
by putting him up in a guest house instead of in jail," 
Shekar said. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
CM STICKS TO HER GUNS: "I HAVE EVIDENCE OF HIS INVOLVEMENT" 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa was not 
cowed by the BJP's threat of strikes and disturbances.  On 
November 17, she told the state assembly that she had 
"shocking, firm evidence of (the Shankaracharya's) 
involvement" in the murder.  "Some may question the 
propriety of the arrest of an influential religious head. 
The government does not expect bouquets for arresting him, 
nor does it fear brickbats for not arresting him.  The 
government headed by me has taken the action under the 
principle that all are equal before the law," she added. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
AFTER BUNDH FAILURE, ADVANI SOFTENS BJP MESSAGE 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
7. (SBU) Acknowledging the bundh's flop in Tamil Nadu, BJP 
President L.K. Advani warned the state government not to be 
misled by the people's silence.  He said that a large cross 
section was deeply anguished by the manner in which the 
Shankaracharya was arrested and treated.  However, he 
stopped short of attacking Jayalalithaa personally.  The 
police had asked the courts for an additional two days' 
police custody of the Shakaracharya for further 
investigation.  However, the Kanchipuram court refused to 
extend the Shankaracharya's police custody, so that his 
status moved to that of judicial custody.  (The effect is 
to spare him further direct, "private" police 
interrogation.)  Advani used this ruling as an excuse to 
call off the bundh. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
FAILED PROTESTS ISOLATE BJP FROM DRAVIDIAN PARTIES 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
8. (SBU) COMMENT: By organizing protests in Tamil Nadu, the 
BJP has pushed the local Dravidian parties away at a time 
when it should be courting them.  Instead of wooing either 
the AIADMK or DMK in anticipation of the 2006 state 
elections, the BJP is irritating both parties by trying to 
rouse sentiment where there is none.  In addition, the BJP 
seems unaware that it is viewed as a Brahmin party in a 
state that is 97% non-Brahmin.  Even the non-BJP political 
leaders who joined the protest, such as Sumbrahmanian Swamy 
(Janata Party) and former President Venkataraman, are 
widely regarded as elite Brahmin leaders.  Absent an 
external threat, Hindutva is a difficult sell in Tamil 
Nadu.  Unless threatened by a force inimical to all Hindus, 
Tamilians tend to identify themselves on caste or 
linguistic bases, and tend to view the BJP's message as 
Brahmanical and suspect.  END COMMENT. 
HAYNES 

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