Congress rubbishes notice over Rahul’s nationality

Rahul Gandhi, President of India's main opposition Congress party. (Reuters)
Updated 30 April 2019

Congress rubbishes notice over Rahul’s nationality

  • Controversial MP Subramanian Swamy leads anti-Gandhi campaign
  • Rahul is the third generation of the Gandhi family to lead the Congress party

DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress Party rubbished a notice sent by the government to its leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday, asking him to answer questions about his citizenship.

The notice comes at the peak of the general election campaign, with both the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fighting bitterly for the remaining 169 seats in the next three phases of the polls.

The notice, sent by the Ministry of Home Affairs following complaints from controversial BJP parliamentarian Subramanian Swamy, poses questions about Gandhi’s citizenship status over a listing as a director of a company registered in the UK. Swamy alleges that Gandhi had declared his nationality as “British” in the company’s annual returns, filed in 2005 and 2006.

“What rubbish,” said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the younger sister of Gandhi and the Congress Party general-secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh. “The whole of India knows that Rahul Gandhi is Indian. People have seen him being born and grow up in India.”

A similar complaint was also filed last month, when a political rival of Gandhi in the Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh asked the local electoral officer to verify the Congress leader’s citizenship before accepting his nomination to stand. It was eventually dismissed.

On Tuesday, the party’s media manager, Rachit Seth, tweeted the certificate of incorporation issued by authorities in London, stating Gandhi’s citizenship as Indian.

“BJP did the same in 2015. Modi is clutching at straws after the 4 phase elections,” Seth tweeted.

Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh said issuing such a notice was normal. “When a member of Parliament writes to any ministry, action required by their query is taken. It is not a big development, it is a normal process,” he stated.

Swamy has a history of anti-Gandhi family rhetoric. He has raised the issue of the Congress leader’s citizenship before, and has also claimed that his real name is “Raul de Vinci,” that he is Italian by birth, and that he adopted his Indian name to participate in politics.

“This is an old campaign against the Gandhi family,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a Delhi-based political analyst. “Obviously, it shows that there is some worry in the BJP — it shows a deep-seated anxiety that the election is not going the way they expected, so this is an attempt to create a new narrative.

“These last seats are where the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is in direct conflict with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, but people might get tired of the dirty tricks of the BJP. It is becoming too much.”

Bhopal-based biographer of the Gandhi family, Rashid Kidwai, stated: “Such a notice does not have any legal basis and will not stand up to scrutiny. Rahul Gandhi has been winning elections since 2004. His citizenship has never come under suspicion.”

“Being accused of being a foreign national contesting an Indian election is a grave charge. The government was in possession of his documents for the last five years. If something was there they would have acted earlier.”

Before entering politics, 49-year-old Gandhi worked in London after finishing his studies at Harvard University. His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first prime minister of India, while his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi also held the office. He is the third generation of the Gandhi family to lead the Congress party.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.