Date: 5/19/2004


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‘Inner voice’ leads Sonia away from PM chair


......................Whose inner voice?

Did Sonia Gandhi step down from the race to be Prime Minister because her "inner voice" suddenly told her to do so? Why did this "voice" speak now, despite her being elected Congress Parliamentary Party leader and after obtaining letters of support from all allied parties?

Whose inner voice?

.............Pioneer News Service/ New Delhi

Apparently, it was not the "inner voice" but certain queries that could have been put to her by the President of India, custodian of the Constitution, which caused her to withdraw her name.

Contrary to attempts by Congressmen and Communists to portray her eleventh-hour retreat as a "personal decision" spurred by her children, it could be the clarifications apparently sought by President A P J Abdul Kalam that resulted in the rethink. The President, it is reliably learnt, did not outrightly reject her candidature for the post of the Prime Minister. However, he is believed to have sought certain clarifications on a few points regarding the precise status of her Indian citizenship. In doing so, he may have referred to some pointed queries referred to him by legal luminaries who met him since the declaration of the Lok Sabha election results.

That probably explains why Ms Gandhi's decision to opt out came only after she emerged from the Rashtrapati Bhawan after meeting the President on Tuesday at 12.30 pm. That could also explain why she did not allow the entourage of allied parties to accompany her for the meeting, contrary to custom.

According to highly placed sources, the President may have conveyed to her that in view of the legal and constitutional queries raised, he would need some more time to examine the matter. Accordingly, there could be no swearing-in on Wednesday, May 19 - a date unilaterally announced by Left leaders and enthusiastically endorsed by Congressmen on Monday without consulting the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Highly placed sources in the Government told The Pioneer that on the basis of various petitions submitted to him, the President could have sought to clarify a few issues from Ms Gandhi. He is said to have informally communicated to her on Monday evening that certain queries needed to be answered, even as he invited her to have a discussion on Government formation.

On the basis of pleas submitted to him by people like Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj against any person of foreign origin occupying a top constitutional post, and the legal advice that he had obtained from top constitutional experts, the President could have sought three clarifications from Ms Gandhi. This would be a haunting experience for Ms Gandhi. The BJP leaders had already declared that they would continue to support any form of agitation on the foreign origin issue.

The most damaging clarification that has apparently been sought relates to Article 102 of the Constitution that says: "A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament" on any or more of five possible grounds. Clause(d) of the same Article says "... or is under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign state".

The term "adherence" had to be clarified specifically as Ms Gandhi in her affidavit before the Returning Officer of the Rai Bareli parliamentary constituency had stated that she owned ancestral property, namely portion of a house, in Orbassano, Italy, the country of her origin. This fact of ownership, legal experts say, makes her subject to Italian law in this matter and could be interpreted as "adherence" to a foreign country. Since this portion of the ancestral property was apparently bequeathed to her by her father in his will, she inherited it only after his death. Consequently, the property was not her's when she filed her 1999 nomination affidavit.

Article 103 states that "if any question arises as to whether a member of either House of Parliament has become subject to disqualification mentioned in Article 102, the question shall be referred for the decision to the President and his decision shall be final". Clause 2 of the Article says: "Before giving any decision on such question, the President shall obtain the opinion of the Election Commission and shall act according to such opinion."

This means that the President is required by the Constitution to undertake an elaborate process of examining the legal and constitutional issues involved. Thus, Ms Gandhi's swearing-in could not happen before the matter was fully clarified and resolved.

Another point that came in the way of Ms Gandhi was Section 5 of the Citizenship Act. Under this, there is a reciprocity provision whereby citizenship granted by India to persons of foreign origin is circumscribed by the rights that particular country confers upon foreigners seeking citizenship there.

The crux of this provision of "reciprocity" is that a person of foreign origin, who has acquired the citizenship of India through registration by virtue of marrying an Indian national, cannot enjoy more rights (like becoming Prime Minister), if the same opportunity is not available to an Indian-born citizen in that particular country.

While it is not known whether the President mentioned this, legal luminaries pointed out there could be a further lacuna over the issue of her surrendering Italian citizenship. It is believed that while acquiring citizenship through registration in 1983, she surrendered her Italian passport to the Italian Ambassador in New Delhi but did not obtain a formal notification from the Italian Government that her citizenship of that country had been cancelled.

This might be only a technicality that could be rectified in a few days, but it would have certainly helped the BJP raise the pitch of the campaign once the citizenship issue returned to the fore.

Another petition submitted to the President on Tuesday by Sushma Swaraj pointed out that as the Supreme Commander of India's Armed Forces, the President should examine a key issue. It referred to the fact that a Defence or Indian Foreign Service official cannot even marry a foreign national without permission, or must quit his post. How could a person of foreign origin be handed over the nuclear button in such circumstances, Ms Swaraj's petition demanded to know.

.............What could have prevented Sonia?

Article 102 of the Constitution says: "A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament - (d) if he or she is under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign state." Sonia Gandhi, in her affidavit, had declared she owned a house in Italy and may thus invite, the term "adherence" of the said provision.

Under Article 103, the President is the sole adjudicator on the issue who has to decide on such matter in consultation with the Election Commission.

Section 5 of the Citizenship Act, dealing with the reciprocity clause for a person who registered herself as an Indian citizen, says the said person could not enjoy more rights than those available to an Indian born person in that other country if he/she acquires citizenship of that country, like Italy for instance.

The clauses of the Citizenship Act were apparently not fully met when Ms Gandhi relinquished her Italian citizenship.