Indian politicians corrupt, populist; bureaucracy lethargic: WikiLeaks

Rahul Gandhi, the "crown prince" of Indian politics, told the American ambassador last year that Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants, according to the latest WikiLeaks cables from the US embassy in New Delhi.

In comments likely to cause a storm in India, Gandhi, who is considered a likely prime ministerial candidate, warned ambassador Timothy Roemer that though "there was evidence of some support for [Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba] among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community".

The 40-year-old son of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi said that "the risk of a 'home-grown' extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India, was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention".

His words were revealed in one of 4,000 leaked US diplomatic cables sent from Delhi. The cables reveal a difficult but increasingly warm relationship between a prickly emerging power and a superpower keen to be friends, but on its own terms.

The Americans are keen to find allies in the "raucous democracy" of India, and appear to believe Rahul Gandhi could be one. Though earlier dispatches were sceptical of his prospects, Roemer recently told Washington: "the rising profile of young leaders like Rahul Gandhi provides us an opening to expand the constituency in support of the strategic partnership".

In the cables, US diplomats complain of bureaucratic inertia, a lack of capacity, oversensitivity, corrupt or populist politicians and a bureaucracy stuck in the era of the cold war. However, they appear to recognise that a respectful and conciliatory approach to the booming and increasingly self-confident India pays dividends. Despite worries about torture, corruption and deep social problems, US diplomats still see the country as a natural ally.