Date: 4/20/2004


.................Some Facts About Sonia Gandhi Balbir K. Punj

BJP president Venkaiah Naidu at a recent press conference in Chennai, adduced documentary evidence that the DMK, the PMK and the MDMK were signatories to a proposal to exclude people of foreign origin from holding high constitutional offices. But these parties are now the proverbial tail of Sonia Gandhi in Tamil Nadu. The proposal was contained in Clause 28 of the national agenda of governance of the NDA in 1999 - wherein a commitment was made to enact a law that would enable only "natural born Indian citizens" to hold high constitutional posts.

A political volte face by M. Karunanidhi or Sharad Pawar on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin smacks of electoral expediency. But can they stoop so dangerously low as to compromise on the core imperatives of sovereignty? Most Indians are opposed to the idea of a person of foreign origin ascending to a high constitutional office and holding sensitive governmental posts. An independent country of one billion is certainly not lacking in quality human resources to take care of its own political establishment. It's nothing short of a subtle undermining of the self-respect and the self-esteem of a country that has been in the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle.

Self-serving detractors of the NDA term this opposition as xenophobia. Doubtless, the debate over foreign origin received an impetus when several Congressmen, including P.A. Sangma, opposed the projection of Sonia Gandhi as India's prospective Prime Minister. Indeed, the framers of our Constitution did not visualise a scenario that after the departure of the British the leadership of India would pass over to a person of foreign origin. Sonia joined the Congress in 1998 and got catapulted to its presidential post within a year.

The Constitution doesn't debar Sonia from trying for the South Block office. After all, she is a bona fide citizen of India. However, the Citizenship Act of 1955 enunciates six distinct types of citizenships:

i) citizenship by birth ii) citizenship by descent iii) citizenship by registration iv) citizenship by naturalisation v) citizenship by incorporation of territory vi) citizenship rights conferred on basis of reciprocity. The first, second, and fifth categories, are of permanent and superior kind, which if not voluntarily renounced can never be revoked by the state. The state can't deprive such citizens of their citizenship even if it may deprive them of life. But citizenship by registration or naturalisation is like a permit, which can be stripped off by the state. Sonia Gandhi's citizenship is of the second kind, and in principle, revocable by law. Her credentials thus, on this criterion alone, fall short of prime ministership.

Yet, her half-baked acolytes have gone to the extent of enumerating how a Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam or a Vasudeo Pandey of Indian origin could become Presidents of Mauritius or Trinidad and Tobago. Some cited the example of Mahendra Chaudhary, an ethnic Indian becoming Prime Minister of Fiji (soon they witnessed how Chaudhary and his government were taken hostage inside the Parliament in Suva for 50 days by George Speight and later ousted from his post). The more innovative ones have conjured the examples of Alberto Fujimori, Peruvian President of Japanese lineage (1990-2000), or Carlos Menem, President of Argentina (1989-1999) and of Syrian parentage. Congressmen also cited the example of an Irish Annie Besant becoming the Congress president for 1917-1918.

Half truths, most of the times, are more dangerous than white lies. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the maker of modern Mauritius, was born in Mauritius itself, of Indian indentured labour couple. His contribution to the freedom movement of Mauritius and its development is immense. To call Seewoosagar Ramgooloam (or his successors like Aniruddh Jagannath or Naveen Chandra Ramgoolam), an Indian is like calling Fidel Castro a Spanish instead of Cuban, or John F. Kennedy an Irish instead of an American. Such observations may be sound only from the genetic point of view, but are otherwise ridiculous.

Similarly, Alberto Fujimori, born in Lima, Peru, of Japanese parents, grew up as a Peruvian (he even adopted Roman Catholicism) and took part in the political movements of that country. Carlos Menem was also born in Argentina of Syrian parents and grew up as an Argentine. They never lived in, nor held citizenships of the country of their forefathers. Similarly, Mahendra Chaudhary is a second generation ethnic Indian born in Fiji. His grandfather had migrated from near Rohtak in Haryana to Fiji way back in 1911. Moreover, these people were meritorious professionals who joined politics subsequently, and reached the top through all the din and the welter. In contrast, Sonia made a "helicopter-landing" on Congress' top post, a dynasty's preserve, without any merit.

The United States, "the New World," is a country of immigrants. Not only was it established by European immigrants in 17th century but it has continued to assimilate newer immigrants from all over the globe. Yet the US Constitution says: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution (i.e. March 4, 1789), shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of 35 years, and been 14 years a resident within the United States." (Article II, Presidency.)

It's ironic to see that even the bright brains of the Fourth Estate never thought it worth to explore the background of a prime ministerial hopeful. She is no self-resplendent Sister Nivedita, or Annie Besant. Despite being mystics and living nearly a century ago, they led their lives as open books. Sonia Gandhi's background, by contrast, is shrouded in mystery and misinformation though she inhabits the era of the information revolution.

There has been a few biographies on the Congress president, like Sonia Gandhi: The Persona by Pranika Sharma, Sonia Mystique by Rupa Chatterjee etc. But Sonia's past, about which doubts continued to linger when Rajiv was alive, has now been completely washed off. It is known that Sonia Gandhi (nee Maino) was born in a place called Ovassanjo, 80 kms from Turin, on Dec. 9, 1946. But when our "secular intellectuals" go miles to prove the RSS-fascism connection, they avoid any reference to Sonia Gandhi's father Stefano Maino being a staunch supporter of Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist Party. Secondly, it is a hearsay that Sonia Gandhi "went to Cambridge" where she met Rajiv. It's like Ken Uncle in Ruskin Bond's Adventures of Rusty who says he did not indulge in falsehood by saying "he was in Oxford," for he had visited his friend there for a few months.

The late A. Ghosh of Houston (of Texas, US) in his letter dated September 14, 1992 to University of Cambridge's keeper of archives had asked about Sonia Gandhi's connection with the university. The keeper of archives, Dr E.S. Leedham-Green wrote back on September 21, "Sonia Gandhi (nee Maino) was not, in fact, a member of this University but studied at one of the numerous language schools situated in the city. Regrettably, I now forget which, but I do remember that when an enquiry precisely similar to yours arose a year or two ago, it transpired that the school in question did not keep any records of all its past students."

It is now a forgotten fact that Indira Gandhi was not happy with Rajiv marrying an Italian girl. Her assimilation of Sikkim into India was prompted when the Chogyal of Sikkim married the American blonde Hope Cook. Indira Gandhi suspected Cook to be a CIA agent. Indira Gandhi was fully aware how marriages with foreign women had subverted governments and disputed national goals. She harboured similar suspicions about Sonia and hence groomed Sanjay Gandhi instead of Rajiv as her possible heir. However, her plans had to be revised when Sanjay Gandhi perished in an air crash in 1980.

Sonia Gandhi acquired her citizenship only on April 30, 1983 through a curious incident. Having married Rajiv Gandhi in 1968, she had already completed the mandatory five years of stay in India a decade back in 1973. Her two children Priyanka and Rahul were already born, putatively deepening her emotional bond with India. Yet till 1983 she displayed little inclination towards becoming an Indian citizen.

The Bofors gun case is once again in the news. Proceedings are pending against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, who is understood to have worked as a conduit for receiving kickbacks and transferring them into safe Swiss accounts. This shady PR man won as many as 60 projects worth Rs 30,000 crores in favour of an Italian company Snam Progetti during his tenure. The chief executive of Snam (now taken over by ENI) committed suicide in 1993 and many of its senior officer are fighting corruption charges in Italian courts. There's no prize for guessing because of whose patronage that shady Italian moved into the corridors of power like the germs in our teeth cavity.

..............Courtesy: The Asian Age, March 30, 2004