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.