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September 16, 1999


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Arvind Lavakare

Of the stuff Sonia is made

It is Sonia Gandhi's latest gender gem: ''The day I became the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi's house, I became an Indian. The rest is all technical.'' By that logic, one Louis de Raedt can be considered to have had even better credentials to be regarded as an Indian.

Monsieur Raedt, you see, held a Belgian passport but, till his day of reckoning in 1987, he had been continuously in India since... 1937! By an order of the Government of India dated 8th July 1987, his request for further stay in India was rejected and he was ordered to leave the country. On an appeal against this order, our Supreme Court ruled that Raedt had not become a citizen of India and therefore had no right "to reside and settle in India".

''He must prove,'' said the court, ''that he had formed the intention of making his permanent home in the country of residence and of continuing to reside there permanently. Residence, alone, unaccompanied by the state of mind, is insufficient.'' Incidentally, the ''secularists,'' the Vatican and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad alike would be interested to learn that Louis de Raedt was engaged in Christian missionary work.

In Sonia Gandhi's case, the above ''state of mind'' was reached in 1983 -- some 15 years after her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi. That would mean that when she became a wife (in February 1968), when she became a mother for the first time (in June 1970) and for the second time (in January 1972) her state of mind was not finalised; her mind obviously remained focussed on Orbassano, a small north Italian village inhabited by old-fashioned Catholics including her father Stephano Maino.

And what was so special about 1983 that made Sonia Gandhi firm up her state of mind on securing Indian citizenship? According to Indira --- the authorised biography of Indira Gandhi written by her close associate, Pupul Jayakar --- the Gandhi bahu applied for Indian citizenship only when a case was filed in court by a ''family member'' to the effect that it was improper to have a foreigner living permanently in the prime minister's house. (No prize for guessing who that ''family member'' was).

Sonia Gandhi was given ''acquired'' citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act 1955. Whether that too was rightly given has been recently questioned. What is not in doubt is that she was not given citizenship under Article 5 of the Constitution that relates to those who were born in India or who have parents either of whom was born in India or who were ordinarily resident in India for at least five years immediately preceding the commencement of the Indian Constitution.

As per his writ petition recently admitted by the Delhi high court, the legal luminary, P N Lekhi has argued that only a citizen of India under Article 5 can contest an elective office in our country. It is Lekhi's contention that a person who has acquired citizenship under the above 1955 Act is entitled to vote, to be an 'elector', but only a citizen under Article 5 is eligible to contest for an elective post. If the courts uphold this view, Sonia Gandhi's goose will be cooked forever, and the Congress will have to depend on the brother-sister combo of the dynasty to come to power.

Ah, the dynasty! Sonia Gandhi wants us to believe that because her grandfather-in-law, her mother-in-law and her husband were all prime ministers of India, she too has the divine right to that position. And she has warned us that we do not know the stuff she is made of.

Well, we do know what stuff, genes and all, are stuffed in her. There's her father, first and foremost, who was reportedly a member of Benito Mussolini's Fascist party that joined hands with Adolf Hitler. According to an article published in the magazine Voice of Jammu Kashmir, Stephano Maino was among those who used to round up leftists and force feed them with bottles of castor oil; later, Maino rose in the ranks and was sent to the eastern front to fight the Russians. (Jyoti Basu may please note before deciding to support Ms Gandhi in the future).

A fall-out of that fascist trait has certainly descended into the stuff called Sonia Gandhi. Her lie to the President in April last that she had the support of 272 members of Parliament, the melodrama she enacted after Pawar & Co questioned her citizenship status, and her effort to con the whole country into believing that she was going to contest the election from Cuddapah --- these are palpable examples of the stuff she is made of, of how authoritarian she is, of how much she is at ease with falsehood.

About her feelings for women and for Indians, there was that magazine article three months ago by Harsha Oza, wife of an ambassador of ours. Deputed by her husband to escort and accompany Sonia Gandhi on a visit to Stockholm in January 1988, Oza's article narrates the humiliation she had to suffer from Madam's insolence and insouciance, including being left stranded on the tarmac in freezing cold and being denied any ''hello'' or good bye. After seeing Sonia Gandhi talking, laughing loudly and jabbering away in Spanish with the wife of the Mexican president attending the official banquet, Oza came to the conclusion that ''although she (Sonia) enjoyed the trappings of power which went with being the Indian prime minister's wife, she could not relate comfortably to Indians.... Although she had made India her home, her heart was not in India and she would be better off being in the land of her birth and the environment of her upbringing.''

Then there's Sonia's duplicity. She seeks our acceptance by constantly appealing to our vast illiterate and emotional people in the idiom of the female gender, representing herself as bahu, beti, maa and vidhwa. She also made a big show early last year in support of the women's reservation legislation by leading a delegation of her gender to the Lok Sabha portals.

However, after the Yadavs snatched the Bill from the Speaker and the people realised how helpless the Vajpayee government was in the face of such political behaviour, Sonia Gandhi, instead of coming to the government's help in introducing a landmark legislation for India's women, started proclaiming that it was the government's job to secure consensus on the issue. It was as transparent as her father's fascist trait that Sonia Gandhi was not interested in the women's reservation law per se, but only insofar as it brought laurels to her and her alone.

The latest stuff about her as a person and her political interest comes in columnist Tavleen Singh's recently published book entitled Lollipop Street. In the years that she claims to have known Sonia Gandhi rather well, the author writes 'with Sonia all conversations were inclined to be about trivia. Other people, clothes, holidays, children. When it came to politics, she was completely contemptuous of anything to do with the subject... her only contribution to political comment usually was to talk about some leader whom she disliked. She knew nothing about the issues fundamental to politics in India; nor did she make any effort to learn them. Her social awareness did not extend beyond the drawing rooms of Delhi till Rajiv Gandhi was killed.' And here's Tavleen Singh's knockout punch: 'I knew that she had never shown any inclination to do anything that would bind her to India in any way.' And to think that this is the person whom the Congress is thrusting on the nation as their one and only leader!

But she must be street smart and ambitious all right. Imagine a non-descript girl from a small Italian village going to Cambridge and enticing an Indian prince of Wales while working --- as a paid domestic with an English family, say some, and as a restaurant waitress, say others. Imagine the force of the inner drive to become India's prime minister by lying to the head of State and without facing a solitary press conference or making an extempore speech in public.

Imagine too the cunning she showed after her husband's demise in starting the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and grabbing for it the land allotted to the Congress party for its national headquarters. Today, madam reigns over the massive and magnificent building of the Foundation while no one in the Congress has the spine to stake claim to it. Even Vajpayee has shockingly not asked the Congress as to why the land allotted to the political party was allowed to go over to a third party.

Incidentally, it was the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation to which the ''clean'' and ''gentlemanly'' Manmohan Singh allocated one billion rupees in his very first Budget that was presented, remember, even as part of the nation's gold lay mortgaged abroad.

Sonia Gandhi's real coup, however, has been the stranglehold she has obtained over the wealthiest cultural institution of the country, having a corpus of one billion rupees and 21 acres of prime land in New Delhi valued at 50 billion rupees. How she did that in gross violation of the law and in utter disregard of public accountability is set out in Sandhya Jain's article in The Pioneer of June 22, 1999. Below is Ms Jain's case in short:

* The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts was set up by a Cabinet decision as an autonomous public trust in March 1987 to promote the preservation and integrated development of all the arts. Its president was the prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi; There were six other trustees.

* IGNA's original trust deed stipulated a 10-year term for the trustees, with one third retiring in 1997 and the government filling the vacancies. The President of India, as Visitor, could appoint a Review Committee to scrutinise its functions. This Committee's recommendations were binding. Because the government had given it a corpus of over half a billion rupees, the Comptroller & Auditor General of the country was to audit its accounts.

* When Rajiv Gandhi died in 1991, Sonia Gandhi was allowed to replace him as president of the board of trustees though she had no official status or public stature.

* In the midsummer of 1995, when a Congress defeat in the general election of the coming year could be foreseen, the six supremo trustees effected radical changes to the trust deed. ''Private citizen'' Sonia Gandhi became lifetime president while the others became lifetime trustees. The government was deprived of the right to appoint the member-secretary, and the right of the Visitor (President of India) to appoint a review committee was denied. The trustees also assumed the right to appoint more ''co-opted'' members, while the government of India's human resources development minister was reduced from ex-officio chairman to ex-officio member.

* The above sweeping changes were in violation of Article 24 of the original trust deed under which all amendments required the ''prior written approval'' of the government. Indeed, that stipulation itself was not included in the amended deed.

* The then HRD minister, Madhavrao Scindia, (a trusted lieutenant of Sonia Gandhi to this day), approved the new deed within a fortnight of the trustees' meeting, and did so without reference to the Cabinet, or even the law and finance ministries.

* Both, the amendment and the approval, were kept secret until February 1996 when IGNCA approached the Centre to enhance the capital cost of the building and had to produce the amended deed with its application for financial enhancement.

* As a bewildered government sought legal remedies, the attorney general opined that the amendments were, in sum, legally invalid. Despite the government twice conveying the legal position to the Trust, it has not received even a reply. It remains to be seen what the Trust's response is to the Centre's directive to the CAG to undertake the audit that had not been allowed by the Trust since 1994.

Meanwhile, let it be noted that during the seventh and eighth Plans, the IGNCA received Rs 84.30 million from the government of which, it is not clear, how much has been spent and how much there is in the Personal Ledger Account. But charge Sonia Gandhi with using public money to create a personal fiefdom, and she is likely to say that in a democracy you have to trust people, especially the dynasty; the rest is all technical.

Tailpiece: One of the ''co-opted'' members inducted into the IGNCA by the coup of 1995 was that ''clean'' and gentlemanly ''man of integrity'' who, while being a pucca Delhiite, had become a member of the Rajya Sabha on the ground of being ''ordinarily a resident of Assam.'' His name is Manmohan Singh.

Arvind Lavakare

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