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Italian issue to fore again

Italian issue to fore again

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: August 30, 2002
URL: http://www.samachar.com/features/300802-sify.html

The surprise attack on the Congress President Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, is bound to revive the controversy centering around the competence of a foreign-born Indian citizen to become prime minister. Whatever the motive of the AIADMK supremo's gratuitous broadside against her at this point of time , there is no denying that her barb hit the Congress boss clear and hard. For, within hours of Jayalalithaa's frontal assault, Sonia had her minions offer a counter defence. Though what the Congress Party spokesmen said did not constitute a valid response to the core issue of her foreign origin, nonetheless it did underline the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's changing positions on the subject.

To the extent that AIADMK boss had given a letter of support to the then President K. R. Narayanan, following the one-vote fall of the Vajpayee Government in 1999, backing the claim of Sonia Gandhi to form an alternative government it showed her opportunism. Yet, it did not take away anything from the validity of Jayalalithaa's objections against Sonia's claim to prime ministership. The AIADMK chief asserted at a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday that to have Sonia as prime minister would be a huge disaster. " It (Sonia becoming prime minister) should not be contemplated. It will be a disaster for all right-thinking and patriotic Indians," Jayalalithaa declared.

And taking recourse to election-like rhetoric she thundered that " it was a crying shame and a pointer to the moral bankruptcy of the Congress which was in the forefront of the struggle to end foreign rule to do an about-turn." Quite clearly, the BJP and others, specially the forlorn leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party who had left the Congress Party on the question of Sonia's foreign origin, would draw much comfort from Jayalalthiaa's unexpected broadside against the Congress boss.

Though the Congress Party was quick to question Jayalalithaa's motives behind the attack against its supreme leader, the AIADMK circles debunked their defence later in the day by setting the record straight over her purported support to Sonia's candidature for prime ministership back in 1999. The AIADMK boss explained that though Sonia had attended her famous tea party at which the strategy to pull down the then Vajpayee Government was to be honed further, " but at no stage did I support Sonia Gandhi as prime minister," Jayalalathiaa asserted. She said that her candidate for prime minister after the fall of the Vajpayee Government was the CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu and not Sonia.

Since Jayalalithaa's words against Sonia were bound to sound very pleasant to the BJP ears, there was much speculation as to whether the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister was desperate to curry favour with the NDA Government. Maybe she was. But, then, does that take away anything from the basic question that she has raised about Sonia's foreign origins and her decision to acquire an Indian passport good seventeen years after she had struck a matrimonial alliance in the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Remarkable thing is that Sonia deemed it right to become an Indian citizen only when her husband was obliged to head the family firm, that is the Congress Party, after the premature death of Indira Gandhi's chosen heir, Sanjay, in an air crash. That should tell something about the degree of love and attachment Sonia had felt for the country she was constrained to adopt and which she now aspired to rule as prime minister. In sum, the issue raised by Jayalalithaa will not go away.

Most Indians, urban or rural, educated or uneducated, feel uneasy at the thought of a `foreigner' leading the country. As Jayalathiaa said, in a nation of one billion people it was a crying shame for the Congress Party to be led by the Italian-born au pair with no merit whatsoever other than the fact that she was the widow of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

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