Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Daughter of the soil

Daughter of the soil
By Narendra Luther

Help! I am in grave danger of soon becoming a stateless person. No, I am not kidding. With the Home Minister who is also the Deputy PM of India having been dubbed as a Pakistani, the former refugees from Pakistan like me can’t be far behind. While Advani, being an influential politician might be able to manage to stay on -- or if the worse comes to worst -- strike a deal with his former homeland, a common man like me has no such chances. After a long time, I managed to become qualified as a ‘Mulki’ in Hyderabad. If I lose that status, I shall become, in Homer’s phrase, a ‘lawless, homeless, hearthless one’ I shall have to appeal to the International Commission for Refugees. Where will they send me now that I am past the productive -- and sad to admit even the reproductive age!

This entire hullabaloo arose because with her election as President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, also became a potential Prime Minister of India. In fact, she is already the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and thus a shadow Prime Minister. In our system of party politics which is a play of light and shade, at periodic intervals, the shadow becomes reality, and reality the shadow. To pre-empt that occurrence, voices have been raised about her being a foreigner.

The ‘Mulki Formula’

People in Andhra Pradesh are quite familiar with the working of the ‘Mulki’ doctrine of the former state of Hyderabad. Under that one had either to be born within the State or be a resident for 14 years to be a ‘Mulki’. Its rigour was further refined in the Six-Point Formula promulgated by the Government of India in 1960s. Under that, public servants can be transferred only within the three traditional regions of the State. For a student from the Andhra region of the State, it is easier to get admission to a university in any part of the world than in the Telangana region – and vice versa. It has only sharpened the demand for the separate state of Telangana.

It is an insidious form of the doctrine of ‘sons of the soil’, which has raised its ugly head lately in most of the States.

Domiciliary Qualification

As against that, in politics, there is no requirement of domicile. Any one can contest a seat for the Lok Sabha from anywhere in India. Thus, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, both residents of Delhi, contested from Karnataka in the last elections. Buta Singh, a Punjabi Sikh, contested from Rajasthan. The Rajya Sabha, which is supposed to provide representation to States has a requirement of domicile in the State from which a candidate can contest. That has been overcome by the ruse of renting a house in a city of the ‘safe’ State. Thus, R.K. Dhawan was able to become a member of the Rajya Sabha from A.P. by renting a house in Hyderabad.

Any citizen of India who is 25 years of age can contest for a seat in Parliament. Briefly, any Member of Parliament can become Prime Minister. The Congress Party has for their own reasons chosen Sonia Gandhi as their leader. In case the Party gets a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, or can cobble a coalition claiming majority in the Lok Sabha, Sonia can lawfully become Prime Minister. It is that prospect that creates a panic amongst many aspirants to the Prime Ministry, and their followers. They argue that it is violative of our dignity as a nation to have a foreigner as Prime Minister. But she is now a citizen of India and it is pointless to rake up the past. In fact, she is already the leader of the Opposition with the rank of a cabinet minister.

Foreigners in India

In this context, it may be worth noting that in the past many foreigners have served India in various capacities with distinction. I am not referring to the paid officials of the East India Company or, later of the Crown. An Englishman, A.O. Hume, a member of ICS, denounced the revenue from the sale of liquor as ‘ wages of sin’. He wrote a letter to the Calcutta University graduates inviting 50 volunteers to join in a movement to promote the mental moral, social and political regeneration of India. This letter led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. He was Secretary or Joint Secretary of 19 out of the first 22 sessions of the Congress. In 1908, the Congress passed a resolution describing him as father of the Indian National Congress. Sir William Wedderburn, after his retirement, devoted himself to the promotion of the Congress. He was elected President of the Congress at its 4th session. Back in England, he became head of the India Party. Sir Henry Cotton retiring as Chief Commissioner returned to India and presided over the 1904 session of the Indian National Congress. Annie Besant, an English woman founded the Home Rule League to demand self rule for Indians. She was elected President of the Congress Party in 1917. C.F. Andrew was another Englishman who became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and fought for the freedom of the country. The ‘Mother’ of the Pondicherry Ashram was French, but revered by Indians. After attaining independence in 1947, the first Governor General appointed by us was an Englishman. When an Albanian missionary, settled in India, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, we celebrated her as an Indian. No one then raised the point of Mother Teresa’s foreign origin.

Indians Abroad

Look at the other side of the coin. Persons of Indian origin were elected members of the British House of Commons. Some sat in the House of Lords. Swaraj Paul is still there. Daleep Singh Saund became a senator n U.S. Some have been elected to the legislatures of States. Vaz was a junior minister in England until recently. Another is a minister in Canada. We cried foul when a duly elected Prime Minister of Indian origin was toppled in Fiji.

People’s Choice

The criterion is the judgment of the public as reflected in the popular vote. She has already crossed the first hurdle. The oldest and the largest political party in the country has chosen her as its leader. The voters have duly elected her as a member of Lok Sabha. If the people are against her, nothing prevents them from defeating her in elections. The objections raised against her as being a foreigner, have led to ludicrous counter-objections that Advani is a Pakistani, and Vajpayee is an Aryan. Today no country in the world can claim ethnic purity. In India, we rejoice in our pluralism. All the religions of the world co-exist in this ancient land just as all the climatic variations of the world are replicated here. We have laid down the rules of the game of power in the Constitution. Let us play the game according to them.

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