Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, has escaped a challenge temporarily to her election from the Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh (UP), held by her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi for decades. The Indian Supreme Court has told a petitioner challenging Sonia’s election that it has to await the outcome of another petition before a seven-member Constitution Bench to decide this issue.
However, the major issue before that bench is the use of religion, religious symbols in an election, including that of appeals by a religious group or a person to vote in a particular manner. The issue involved in Sonia’s election matter includes her nationality.
The bench of Justice Anil R Dave, Justice RK Aggarwal and Justice AM Khanwilkar deferred the hearing on Sonia’s nationality on the grounds that the verdict on the ‘Hindutva’ issue is necessary for deciding the petition. The order made on 27 October, 2016, simply stated: “To be notified after the disposal of Civil Appeal No. 37 of 1992”. This means only after a decision on that appeal, the challenge to Sonia Gandhi’s election would be taken up. The case may be assumed to drag on till the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
The order came on an election petition by one Ramesh Singh, a resident of Rae Bareli, whose petition challenging the election of Sonia Gandhi to Lok Sabha in 2014 general elections in India was dismissed by Allahabad High Court. The High Court reasoned out that Sonia’s “nationality” could not be questioned and her grant of Indian citizenship could not be questioned at “this belated stage.” But the petitioner Ramesh Singh argued that the issue involved in the seven-member Constitution Bench was different. It related to an appeal to voters on grounds of religion but the present issue involving Sonia Gandhi also included her nationality.
For, under the Italian law, Sonia Gandhi’s motherland, a born Italian is an Italian till his or her death irrespective of him or her obtaining a citizenship in some other country. However, Indian law prohibits this. This issue is yet to be settled even after India passed a legislation on PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) who have been granted Indian citizenship, “dual citizenship” in common man’s language. But the Indian law is not clear whether such PIOs children would also be treated as Indian citizens unless they too apply under the PIO citizenship scheme. But the Italian law is clear: even the children of Italians who have obtained citizenship of some other country would be considered as Italian citizens, born Italians till their deaths.
This issue is certainly different and the Indian Supreme Court would have done well if it entertained and analysed the Indian and Italian law as well as the PIO scheme or law so that the issue could have been settled for once and all. The seven-member bench had earlier made it clear that it would not go into the 1995 judgment which held that ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ is not a religion but only a “way of life”. With this, a quietus has been given to the ‘Hindutva’ issue, but the issue of “dual citizenship” is hanging fire ever since there were a few challenges to Sonia Gandhi’s election on the issue of citizenship which were all dismissed.
The Italian citizenship law also stipulates that children of those born Italians irrespective of their getting citizenship in any other country would also be considered Italian citizens and from that yardstick, even Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are Italian citizens. Maybe after the seven-member bench judgment on the election petition, this issue, too, would be taken up but by the time several general elections might have come and gone.