Rahul Gandhi’s Citizenship – The Centre Must Decide
In the absence of any decision to the contrary by the competent authority, the Central Government, a presumption of Indian citizenship operated in the favor of Mr. Gandhi. The Returning Officer had no option but to honor the said presumption.
April 23, 2019
As noted earlier, Dr. Swamy has already written to the Home Ministry upon the subject. For reasons best known to it, the Central Government has failed to act.
Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship has been a subject of speculation for some time now. On September 21, 2017, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, Rajya Sabha MP of BJP, wrote to the Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh, enclosing certain documents regarding a company named BACKOPS LIMITED in the United Kingdom. Dr. Swamy contended that Mr. Rahul Gandhi was the Director and Secretary of the Company and that it could be seen from the documents in question that Mr. Gandhi had declared himself to be of British Nationality with a United Kingdom address at 51 Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9EH.
The topic came to the fore yet again when the Returning Officer of Amethi, on April 20, ordered the postponement of scrutiny of nomination papers of Mr. Gandhi amidst objections regarding the latter’s citizenship. The move created ripples in political and news circles. The BJP held a press conference raising questions over Mr. Gandhi’s citizenship status. The party reportedly also filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India. The drama, however, came to a rather uncharacteristically quiet end today, April 22, when the Returning Officer found the nomination papers of Mr. Gandhi in order and put an end to speculations for now.
The decision of the Returning Officer comes as no surprise.
The reason is a simple one. The Returning Officer had absolutely no authority to venture into the question of Mr. Gandhi citizenship status. Even if the above-noted documents, which are available in the public domain, are presumed to be genuine and authenticated, they by themselves do not extinguish Mr. Gandhi’s Indian citizenship. Under the law, Mr.. Gandhi’s citizenship can only be terminated by a declaration to that effect by the competent authority, the Central Government. Until such time that the Central Government declares Mr. Gandhi to have acquired British citizenship and to have consequentially given up his Indian citizenship, the latter remains an Indian citizen for all practical purposes.
As such, the Returning Officer, based on the aforementioned documents, could not have taken the view that Mr. Gandhi had ceased to be an Indian citizen, and, having so concluded, rejected the nomination papers of Mr. Gandhi.
The position becomes absolutely clear from a survey of the relevant provisions of law.
The termination of citizenship of an Indian citizen for having acquired citizenship of another country is dealt with by Section 9 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act, 1955’ for the sake of brevity).
Section 9 (1) of the Act, 1955, lays down that any citizen of India who voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition, cease to be a citizen of India. Section 9 (2) of the Act, 1955, on the other hand, lays down that if any question arises as to whether, when or how any citizen of India has acquired the citizenship of another country, it shall be determined by such authority, in such manner, and having regard to such rules of evidence, as may be prescribed in this behalf. Rule 30 of the Citizenship Rules, 1956, appoints the Central Government as the authority competent to decide questions agitated under Section 9 (2) of the Act, 1955.
A bare perusal of the above-noted provisions of the law leaves no doubt that the Central Government, and not the Returning Officer, is the authority competent to determine whether, when or how any citizen of India, in this case, Mr. Gandhi, acquired foreign citizenship. Moreover, such determination must be made having regard to rules of evidence, such rules having been set out in Schedule III of the Citizenship Rules, 1956.
The aforesaid view is fortified by the judgment rendered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Bhagwati Prasad Dixit ‘Ghorewala’ v. Rajeev Gandhi, reported in AIR 1986 SC 1534. In that case, the petitioner had contended that because Mr. Rajeev Gandhi, India’s erstwhile Prime Minister and the late father of Mr. Rahul Gandhi, had married an Italian lady and had acquired properties in his own name as well as in the name of his wife in Italy, Mr. Rajeev Gandhi must be deemed to have acquired Italian citizenship and to have ceased to be an Indian citizen under Section 9 of the Act, 1955.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court went on to hold that ‘Section 9 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, is a complete code as regards the termination of Indian citizenship on the acquisition of citizenship of a foreign country’ and that ‘the High Court was in error in construing that it could decide the question whether a person had ceased to be an Indian citizen’. The Hon’ble Apex Court observed that as per ‘Rule 30 of the Citizenship Rules, 1956, the Central Government is appointed as the authority to decide such question’ and that ‘no court or authority has the power to decide the question as to whether, when or how an Indian citizen has acquired the citizenship of another country’.
The law is, therefore, well settled. Mr. Gandhi, at no point of time, faced any danger of having his nomination rejected by the Returning Officer upon the ground that the former’s citizenship was under a cloud. In the absence of any decision to the contrary by the competent authority, the Central Government, a presumption of Indian citizenship operated in the favor of Mr. Gandhi.. The Returning Officer had no option but to honor the said presumption. Any other course of action would not have survived judicial scrutiny.
The above-noted chain of events, nonetheless, does not imply that Mr. Gandhi has got a clean chit in so far as his citizenship status is concerned. Far from it. The decision of the Returning Officer should not be perceived as having closed the lid on the controversy once and for all.
It is for the Central Government to take a final call in the matter. The truth is that the ball is, and has always been, in the court of the Central Government. As noted earlier, Dr. Swamy has already written to the Home Ministry upon the subject. For reasons best known to it, the Central Government has failed to act.
If we are to ever get to the bottom of this matter, the Central Government must act. Schedule III of the Citizenship Rules, 1956, clearly provides that if it appears to the Central Government that a citizen has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country, it may require him to prove, within a fixed period, that he has not voluntarily acquired the citizenship of that country. The road ahead is, therefore, very straightforward. Let us wait and watch if it is taken.