Debating India

Sonia sacrifice: ’The Whole Truth’ is really a lie

Siddharth VARADARAJAN

Monday 31 May 2004, by VARADARAJAN*Siddharth

NEW DELHI : Congress president Sonia Gandhi may have trumped the BJP’s anti-foreign origin campaign by renouncing the post of Prime Minister, but elements of the saffron combine are attempting to fight back through the circulation of anonymous pamphlets questioning the reason for her decision to back away from the country’s top job.

The pamphlets, one of which is titled ’The Whole Truth’, are based on blatant falsehoods about what transpired in the meeting between Sonia and President A P J Abdul Kalam.

They allege that the latter flatly refused to swear the Congress president in as Prime Minister. They also cite specious legal arguments about why Sonia, despite being an Indian citizen, is not eligible for high office.

Worse, some BJP leaders are publicly trying to drag the President of India into the controversy, unconcerned at the harm this does to the reputation and majesty of the highest office.

On the BBC’s Question Time India , broadcast on Friday, Sahib Singh Verma demanded that Sonia Gandhi "reveal" what transpired in her meeting with Kalam.

The allegation that Kalam raised some supposed legal impediments in his meeting with Sonia on May 18 first appeared in the Pioneer and the Asian Age, prompting Rashtrapati Bhavan to issue a formal denial that the question of the Congress president’s citizenship figured in their discussions in any way.

The authors of the pamphlet are evidently counting on the fact that the President’s denial was not carried prominently enough by the print and electronic media.

Since the Supreme Court has already settled the issue of Gandhi’s citizenship, the pamphlet essentially draws upon the legally infirm petition put forward by Janata party politician Subramaniam Swamy.

Swamy’s petition begins with the erroneous premise that Italy does not allow naturalised citizens to become head of government. However, Italy ’s Constitution has no such bar. Proceeding from this false assumption, Swamy then cites Section 5 of India’s Citizenship Act of 1955.

This says that "in prescribing the conditions and restrictions subject to which persons of any such country may be registered as citizens of India..., the Central Government shall have due regard to the conditions subject to which citizens of India may...become citizens of that country by registration."

Combining this clause with his false assumption that Italy would not allow a naturalised citizen of Indian origin to become PM, Swamy argues that one of the conditions under which Sonia Gandhi became an Indian has to be that she cannot become PM.

However, even assuming that Italy discriminated between natural-born and naturalised citizens - which it does not - the clause cited by Swamy would have no bearing on whether Sonia Gandhi can become PM.

The phrase "conditions and restrictions" in the clause refers only to practical conditions like the number of years a foreign citizen would have to live in the country in order to qualify for naturalisation.

In other words, if Italian law says that an Indian citizen will qualify for naturalisation only if he or she has lived in Italy for, say, 15 years, then the Indian government is allowed to increase the residence requirement for Italian residents of India wishing to become citizens from the current five to 15 years.

That this is, in fact, the only meaning of the phrase "conditions and restrictions" becomes clear from a reading of ’Schedule III: Qualifications for Naturalisation’ of the Citizenship Act: "The qualifications for naturalisation of a person who is not a citizen of a country specified in Schedule I (ie mostly Commonwealth countries) are: (a) that he is not a subject or citizen of any country where citizens of India are prevented by law or practice of that country from becoming subjects or citizens of that country by naturalisation."

Sonia Gandhi would have been ineligible for Indian citizenship through the naturalisation route if Italy did not allow Indians to become naturalised citizens, a claim that even Swamy himself has never made.

Even then, as the spouse of an Indian citizen, she would have been entitled to citizenship through the registration route.

See online : The Times of India

P.S.

in The Times of India, Monday, May 31, 2004.

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