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MAY 25, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Indo-Italian goddess and 'secular' Congress

Amar Akbar Antony has proved a hit once again. And producer-director Manmohan Desai must be smiling in the Elysian fields at the thought that the blockbuster film he made some 20 years ago is being recalled by today's Congressmen in the momentous dushum dushum action generated by the letter their supreme leader received from Sharad Pawar, Purno A Sangma and Tariq Anwar.

Proving less rumbustious but infinitely trickier than Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna, this Congress trinity has set loose an unholy and historic hiatus in the party's search for power in the coming polls.

The first reactions to that landmark letter were as melodramatic as any Hindi box office film. Sonia Gandhi walked out of the Congress Working Committee meeting on May 17 after submitting her resignation as the party president.

Ambika Soni, a CWC member, quickly burst into tears (without glycerine of course) and a dozen or so CWC bigwigs rushed to Soniaji's nearby bungalow to beseech her to renounce her renunciation.

Ah, how Manmohan Desai would have picturised all that! He would even have inserted a three-minute song there, albeit a plagiarism of the famous Mukesh number Ao janewale ho sake to laut ke ana.

Very soon, the four Congress chief ministers and several party office bearers resigned as blackmail to force Soniaji to withdraw her withdrawal. Simultaneously came roadside hunger strikes from Congress legislators of various states. If there were special effects-experts around, we would surely have seen some self-immolations as well.

Sonia Gandhi's resignation letter was itself a re-take of the much-wronged heroine of a Hindi film. "I am an Indian and will remain so till my last breath," she wrote, and, for more emotive impact, she added, "India is my motherland, dearer to me than my life." What a great script, that, for Meena Kumari, the unsurpassed tragedy queen of our silver screen.

In this marathon action-thriller, conceived, produced and directed by the Congress, the core theme got side-tracked --- as in a Hindi film. Was Sonia Gandhi eligible and competent to be India's PM?

About eligibility, the answer was sought to be given earlier by Kapil Sibal, the Congress Rajya Sabha member and Supreme Court counsel who invariably wears a contemptuous smile as though all others are duffers.

On May 12, Sibal had stated that the BJP leaders should read the Constitution of India before trying to mislead people about Sonia Gandhi's citizenship. Article 15 of the Constitution, he said, clearly stated that no citizen should be discriminated against in the name of religion, caste, sex or place of birth. "This is a fundamental right and I am surprised at the ignorance of the BJP leaders", he pointed out.

But Sibal had acted either the counsel too clever by half or the plain shyster. Article 15 is fine with regard to non-discrimination but who is a citizen, Mr Sibal? What is "citizenship" under our law?

The Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, is crystal clear on this point. No foreigner like Sonia Gandhi can acquire Indian citizenship or continue to claim Indian citizenship unless he or she has categorically renounced the original citizenship.

While applying for Indian citizenship, the applicant has to swear an affidavit to that effect. Implicit in this is an understanding that the government of the parent country will be intimated so that the applicant will no longer be eligible directly or indirectly to rights and obligations that come with the earlier citizenship.

To allow the parent country to labour under the impression that the person continues to be its citizen will be an offence under the Indian law. In short: no dual citizenship.

That is precisely why Sangma posed his billion dollar question, "does Sonia Gandhi have two passports?" at the CWC meeting on May 15. And when Pranab Mukherjee tried to quell his challenge, Sangma reminded the Bengali babu that since he too, on television earlier in the month, had expressed lack of knowledge on the issue, Sangma would like to know the answer--- from the mare's mouth so to say!

Indeed, millions of Indians have wanted to know that ever since the BJP first raised the debate to a high decibel after Sonia Gandhi's bid for the PM's post last month. Strangely, Sonia Gandhi resigned as Congress president instead of answering Sangma's simple query.

It is only fair to the people of India that Sonia Gandhi made the position clear once and for all. The CWC forum was an ideal one for that. Instead, she chose to be pained and petulant.

The Indian law on citizenship is only one part of the story. The other part is Italian law. According to one scholarly writer of the Sangh Parivar, an Italian never loses his or her nationality; he or she can reclaim it any time.

If that is indeed so, can Sonia Gandhi be said to be an Indian citizen only? Would it not be correct to say then that she holds the dual citizenship key legally denied to an Indian? Would it also not be correct to say then that the benefit of Sibal's Article 15 is not really applicable to Sonia Gandhi?

There is a third dimension too to this naughty knotty problem. According to one source, Section 10 of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, provides for four grounds on which a person granted citizenship can be deprived of citizenship.

One of the grounds is that the government of the day has the right to prescribe additional conditions depending upon how the country of his/her birth treats Indians who become spouses of the parent country's citizens.

In this context, a case has come to light of Sonali Dasgupta, a Bengali actress. Sonali married Italian film director Roberto Rossellini in the 1950s and was granted Italian citizenship after she had duly renounced her Indian citizenship.

In 1960, Sonali wished to contest for an elective office at the municipal level; however, she was told that she was not entitled to do so under Italian law because she was not an Italian by birth.

Now suppose the Vajpayee government wakes up to that legality and curbs Sonia Gandhi's right to contest the coming elections, what would happen to her Indian citizenship?

These are issues that the whole of India has the right to debate and decide. But the Congress will not even think about it. And Sonia Gandhi herself sulked even at the mention of two passports.

Next, there are those violations of law attributed to Sonia Gandhi. It is now known that she once held shares and was also managing director of Sanjay Gandhi's Maruti Technical Services Pvt Ltd. That was in January 1973 --- a good 10 years and four months before she was granted Indian citizenship.

At that time, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act required the prior permission of Reserve Bank of India both for the purchase of Indian corporate shares by a non-Indian and for the appointment of a non-Indian as a director of an Indian company.

Since such permission was never accorded to Sonia Gandhi, those two acts of hers, however unconsciously enacted, do legally constitute a violation of FERA. Ought such a person be considered for the PM's post?

There is also Sonia Gandhi's trait of choosing to be far away from the truth --- as shown by her resignation at just the mention of two passports. It is believed that during our war of 1971 in East Bengal, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi chose to go on a holiday abroad.

And if Maneka Gandhi is to be believed, Sonia and Rajiv took refuge in the Italian embassy in Delhi when, in 1977, Indira Gandhi suffered a humiliating electoral defeat caused by the tyrannical fall-out of the Emergency imposed by her in 1975.

Even after they were fetched back into the joint family, the two chose to have their meals separately and sulked in the presence of Sanjay Gandhi and his wife. And when, after Sanjay's death in June 1983, Indira Gandhi wanted to appoint Maneka as her personal secretary, Sonia sulked once again in protest.

Another vicious trait was noticed in Sonia Gandhi last month. After the Vajpayee government's fall, she proclaimed to the nation that she had told the President that she had 272 MPs on her side and she would produce the required list in black and white in two days.

When the day of reckoning came, her list comprised 232 names. So where had the remaining 40 gone? Nobody asked and she on her own did not consider it necessary to explain how she had earlier cited the figure of 272.

Then there's the matter of Jyoti Basu for the post of PM. It was Sonia Gandhi who told us that Basu was not interested; yet, a few days later came the news that the matter having come to the crunch, Basu was willing to sit in the hot seat. Should we really then entrust the PM's post to such a person who prevaricates when there's no need to?

Finally, there's the refrain of her "sacrifices." Just what are those sacrifices?

None really from the time she got married to Rajiv in 1968 till his death in May 1991--- 23 long years in which she lived in great luxury with a retinue of servants, enjoyed to the hilt a family life with hubby doing what he enjoyed, two children brought up in royal style, and honoured with the highest possible social status simply unimaginable for a person of her humble origin.

After her husband's death, her comforts, financial prosperity and social status remained untouched --- totally unlike what happens to the wives of hundreds of defence and police personnel, scientists and doctors who die in silent service of the nation.

On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi got the rare opportunity of running rich trusts and foundations, of having foreign dignitaries call on her ever so often, of having a string of courtiers at her beck and call.

Those are perquisites and privileges and riches that no Indian widow can even dream of. And all of it without an iota of accountability or responsibility to the country.

All she really missed was a husband; but millions of women all over the world have suffered widowhood without even one of Sonia Gandhi's bounties. "Sacrifices" must surely have a perverse meaning in the Congress dictionary.

Public experience and everything else apart, can Sonia Gandhi even reply to a debate in the Lok Sabha? Can she, when reading out from a prepared script is not permitted by the august House's rules of business? Can she, when she is no more than acquainted with just one of the 18 official languages of the country?

This then is the Indo-Italian goddess blindly worshipped by the servile and "secular" Congress.

Arvind Lavakare

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