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|September 15, 1999||
The Rediff Election Specials/ Dinesh Trivedi
Once upon a time in Indore
Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins seem to have become a subject of discussion everywhere, from the Internet and the electronic and print media to social gatherings and the local tea shop. The issue would perhaps not have mattered so much to people at large had the Congress president not been projected as a prime ministerial candidate.
The backgrounds of Mother Teresa, the Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram or Sister Nivedita never aroused controversy. These women were never seen as political power centres and were confined to a particular segment of society. Similarly, Sonia Gandhi's becoming Congress chief did not receive too much public attention given that the post concerned only one political party.
It is to be kept in mind that constitutional provisions are one thing and popular acceptance of a person as leader of a political situation quite another. Under the Constitution a candidate who is a registered voter is eligible to contest polls from any part of the country. But if, say, a Bengali candidate fights a Lok Sabha election from Maharashtra, it would become a poll issue because the candidate would inevitably be called an "outsider." Regardless of whether s/he was a worthy candidate, his or her chances of winning the election would be remote -- unless s/he was a famous personality.
Irrespective of what political parties think at the end of the day, it is the people at large who decide one way or the other what constitutes leadership. Therefore, a debate on the subject is unavoidable and, in a democracy, always healthy. As long as there are national boundaries and different cultures and value systems across the world, debates on contentious issues cannot be avoided, however motivated they may be.
Interestingly, during the recent cricket World Cup we witnessed how a second or third generation British citizen of Indian origin cheered the Indian team even when the match was played against the English team on English soil. And that it was natural for the commentator to refer to British citizens of Indian origin as "Indians." These are perhaps natural reactions.
Sonia Gandhi, on her part, has projected herself as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty's natural and legitimate heir. During an All India Congress Committee session, she mentioned in her address only the members of the family to which she belonged. No other Indian leader, be it Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vallabhbhai Patel or Abul Kalam Azad was referred to.
This being the case it is worth considering how Jawaharlal Nehru would have reacted to a foreigner putting himself or herself up as prime ministerial candidate. The question is difficult to answer. But if one goes by some historical events in the erstwhile princely state of Indore and the views of Nehru at the time, we may arrive at an idea.
In 1950, the then Maharaja of Indore, Yashvantrao Holkar, wanted his son, Richard, to be his successor. Richard was born in Indore before 1947 of an American woman the Maharaja made his wife in 1943. The then President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Nehru and Home Minister Patel, made it clear that the son of a foreign wife could not inherit the Indore gaddi. This was followed by an unprecedented event in the history of India.
Contrary to all Hindu traditions, precedent and religious sanction, the Maharaja's daughter, Usha Raje Holkar -- born of a Hindu wife -- was made a successor to the ruler of Indore. The significant thing is that this happened after the Constitution had come into force. The rulership was only notional as the state of Indore had been merged in the Union of Madhya Bharat state in 1948. In 1961, the maharaja died. Princess Usha was recognised as the next ruler by the Government of India under the signature of Prasad and Nehru.
In 324/23 BC Chandragupta Maurya defeated Selukas Niketor, who was appointed the governor of conquered territories -- Iran, Afghanistan, and part of India -- by Alexander the Great. Chanakya then performed the marriage of Chandragupta Maurya with Helen, Selukas's daughter, in order to keep the Greeks out of India. But he made one important condition: no progeny of Helen would either succeed or claim the inheritance of the throne of Magadh.
It is clear that even though 2,300 years separated them, Nehru and Chanakya were of the opinion that no person of foreign origin nor his or her progeny could sit on the throne in any state of India. Today, all one can say is, let the debate continue. Only the people can decide if history was wrong or right.
Dinesh Trivedi is a former member of Parliament.
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