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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

Govt asks Rahul Gandhi to clarify his citizenship; Oppn hits back

Cong questions timing of notice, says chief born and brought up in India; BJP doubles down on attack.

india Updated: May 01, 2019 00:01 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
HindustanTimes, New Delhi
With three phases of polling still due to be completed in the 17th general election that will end on May 19, the move is expected to inject a new element of bitterness into the poll campaign .
With three phases of polling still due to be completed in the 17th general election that will end on May 19, the move is expected to inject a new element of bitterness into the poll campaign .
         

The Union home ministry has served a notice on Congress president Rahul Gandhi asking him to explain in a fortnight his position on a claim by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy that he is a British national and not an Indian — a contention the opposition party termed as “rubbish” and a move it described as a sign that the BJP was facing defeat in the general elections.

Swamy wrote a complaint on September 21, 2017, to Union home minister Rajnath Singh about the registration in 2003 and dissolution in 2009 of a company called Backops Ltd in London in which Gandhi was named as one of the directors.

“It has been brought out in the complaint that in the company’s annual returns filed on 10/10/2005 and 31/10/2006, your date of birth has been given as 19/06/1970 and that you have declared your nationality as British. Further, in the dissolution application dated 17/02/2009 of the above refereed company, your nationality has been mentioned as British,” said the letter to Gandhi from BC Joshi, director of citizenship at home ministry.

“You are requested to intimate the factual position in the matter to this Ministry within a fortnight of the receipt of this communication,” said the letter dated April 29.

With three phases of polling still due to be completed in the 17th general election that will end on May 19, the move is expected to inject a new element of bitterness into a campaign that has already been marred by allegations and counter-allegations of malfeasance, violations of the model code of electoral conduct, and Opposition complaints about malfunctioning electronic voting machines. The Opposition has also accused the Election Commission of India (EC) of ignoring violations by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A petition was also filed before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court that called on the court to cancel Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha membership, claiming the Congress leader had filed tax returns in London in which he was described as a British national. India’s Constitution says that any person voluntarily acquiring a foreign passport automatically loses Indian citizenship.

In November 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the citizenship of Gandhi while noting that PILs were not meant to target one individual or organisation but was a medium to resolve human suffering through good governance.

The Congress said the notice was a move by the BJP to divert people’s attention from key electoral issues. “The entire world knows Rahul Gandhi is an Indian citizen by birth. Modi ji has no answer for unemployment, he has no answer for agrarian distress and black money, that’s why he’s resorting to a fake narrative,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lost the plot. After four phases of elections, it is clear that Modiji and the BJP are hurtling towards an imminent defeat at a breakneck speed. Consequently, they seek to manufacture one malicious and fallacious agenda everyday,” Surjewala said at a press conference.

He cited a certificate of incorporation of the UK firm, Backops, in which Rahul Gandhi worked as a director, to support his claim that Gandhi had duly disclosed his Indian nationality.

In Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, said the home ministry’s notice was “rubbish”.

“I have never heard such rubbish. All know Rahul Gandhi was born, raised here,” she said. “The entire country knows he was born here. He was brought up in front of them. What rubbish is this?” Priyanka Gandhi shot back when asked about the notice.

Home minister Rajnath Singh said the timing of the communication was not relevant even though it had been served in the middle of general elections.

“If any member of Parliament raises a question in Parliament, it becomes necessary to respond to it. If any MP writes a letter to any ministry, then necessary proceedings are undertaken. It is not a big development, it is a normal process,” Singh said in Lucknow, adding that Swamy had written about the issue to the home ministry several times and raised it in Parliament.

Swamy, in his complaint to Rajnath Singh, asked him to take “necessary steps to see if this prima facie evidence is rebuttable, and if not, order that Rahul Gandhi be stripped of his citizenship, and his membership of the Lok Sabha, forthwith”.

A senior home ministry official, who requested anonymity, said a fresh complaint was received by the ministry this month and “as per procedure a notice was sent to him [Gandhi] to clarify his citizenship status”.

The BJP had also alleged discrepancies in Rahul Gandhi’s nomination form for the Amethi Lok Sabha seat. The documents were found to be valid by the returning officer.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra told a press conference on Tuesday that Gandhi seemed to be a “mystery man”.

“This is about three Cs: citizenship, confusion and clarification. The question of citizenship raised by the home ministry is based on authenticated documents,” he said. “We would like to ask him if he is Rahul Gandhi ‘London wale’, or Rahul Gandhi ‘Lutyens wale’. Since he has created the confusion, only he can clear it,” he said.

“Rahul Gandhi chooses to become UK citizen but probably wants to remain Indian by compulsion because he is a Lok Sabha MP and does politics in the name of his family,” Patra added.

On Tuesday, other opposition parties backed Rahul Gandhi. Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha, whose party is an ally of the Congress in Bihar, said the allegations were “baseless”.

“These type of baseless allegations to grab headlines for a day, which is the intention of Subramanian Swamy. He is a guided missile,” he said.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) general secretary DP Tripathi said: “Subramanian Swamy has been raising these issues for several years but has never produced concrete proof to support his allegations. The home ministry should not have served notice to him [Gandhi] without any proof.”

Communist Party of India leader D Raja said: “Rahul Gandhi has been issued a voter ID. Then why is there confusion over his citizenship? The timing of issuing this notice to the Congress president is questionable.”

Three phases of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections have been completed so far. The next three rounds are due to take place on May 6, 12 and 19.