The day I entered Indiraji's household I became an Indian, the rest is just technical -- that is Sonia Gandhi's latest explanation for not having acquired Indian citizenship till fourteen years after her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi.
First the facts. Surya Prakash, the Consulting Editor of The Pioneer, has documented these in detail. Sonia married Rajiv on 25 February, 1968. Under section 5(c) of the Indian Citizenship Act she became eligible to register herself as a citizen of India on 25 February, 1973. She chose to continue as a citizen of Italy. She applied for Indian citizenship only ten years later, on 7 April, 1983.
A foreigner seeking Indian citizenship has to state on oath that he or she has relinquished his or her citizenship of the original country. This requirement was all the more necessary in the case of an Italian citizen: under Italian law, an Italian taking citizenship of another country continues to retain his or her Italian citizenship. Sonia Gandhi's application did not have the requisite statement, nor did it have any official document from the appropriate authorities in Italy. The omission was made up in a curious way: the Ambassador of Italy stepped in, and wrote to the Government saying that Sonia Gandhi had indeed given up her citizenship of Italy. He did so on 27 April, 1983. Sonia got her citizenship forthwith -- on 30 April, 1983.
Another nugget Surya Prakash has unearthed is that while Sonia became a citizen on 30 April, 1983, her name made its way to the electoral rolls as of 1 January, 1980! In response to an objection, it had to be deleted in late 1982. But sure enough, it was put back on the electoral roll as of 1 January, 1983. She hadn't even applied for citizenship till then.
All technicalities! If any ordinary person were to proceed in the same way, he would be up for stern prosecution.
Maruti was one of the most odious scandals connected with Mrs Indira Gandhi and her family. The Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice A C Gupta recorded that, though she was at the time a foreigner, Sonia Gandhi secured shares in two of their family concerns: Maruti Technical Services Pvt. Ltd. (in 1970 and again in 1974), and Maruti Heavy Vehicles (in 1974). The acquisition of these shares was in contravention of the very Act that Mrs Gandhi used to such diabolic effect in persecuting her political opponents, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973. Just another technicality!
But the Mother of Technicalities, so to say, is to be found in the way Sonia Gandhi, without having any known sources of income, has become the controller of one of the largest empires of property and patronage in Delhi. The Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Library and Museum is one of the principal institutions for research on contemporary Indian history. It is situated in and controls real estate which, because of its historical importance, cannot even be valued. The institution runs entirely on grants from the Government of India. Sonia Gandhi has absolutely no qualification that could by any stretch of imagination entitle her to head the institution: has she secured even an elementary university degree, to say nothing of having done anything that would even suggest some specialization in subjects which the institution has been set up to study. But by mysterious technicalities she is today the head of this institution. So much so that she even decides which scholar may have access to papers -- even official papers -- of Pandit Nehru and others of that family, including, if I may stretch the term, Lady Mountbatten.
Real estate, only slightly less valuable, has been acquired on Raisina Road. The land was meant to house offices of the Congress. A large, ultra-modern building was built -- the finance being provided by another bunch of technical devices which remain a mystery. The building had but to get completed, and Sonia appropriated it for the other Foundation she completely controls -- the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. The Congress(I) did not just oblige by keeping silent about the takeover of its building, in the very first budget its Government presented upon returning to power, it provided Rs 100 crores to this Foundation. The furore that give-away caused was so great that the largesse had to be canceled. No problem. Business house after business house, even public sector enterprises incurring huge losses, coughed up crores.
The Foundation has performed two principal functions. The projection of Sonia Gandhi. And enticing an array of leaders, intellectuals, journalists etc. into nets of patronage and pelf.
But the audacity with which the land and building were usurped and funds raised for this Foundation falls into the second order of smalls when they are set alongside what has been done in regard to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.
This Centre was set up as a trust in 1987 by a resolution of the Cabinet. The Government of India gave Rs. 50 crores out of the Consolidated Fund of India as a corpus fund to this Centre. It transferred 23 acres of land along what is surely one of the costliest sites in the world -- Central Vista, the stretch that runs between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate -- to this Trust. Furthermore, it granted another Rs. 84 crores for the Trust to construct its building.
The land was government land. The funds were government funds. Accordingly, care was taken to ensure that the Trust would remain under the overall control of the Government of India. Therefore, the Deed of the Trust provided, inter alia,
* Every ten years two-thirds of the trustees would retire. One half of the vacancies caused would be filled by the Government. One half would be filled by nominations made by the retiring trustees.
* The Member Secretary of the Trust would be nominated by the Government on such terms and conditions as the Government may decide.
* The President of India would appoint a committee from time to time to review the working of the Trust, and the recommendations of the committee would be binding on the Trust.
* No changes would be made in the deed of the Trust except by prior written sanction of the Government, and even then the changes may be adopted only by three-quarters of the Trustees agreeing to them at a meeting specially convened for the purpose.
Now, just see what technical wonders were performed one fine afternoon.
A meeting like any other meeting of the trustees was convened on 18 May, 1995. The minutes of this meeting which I have before me list all the subjects which were discussed -- the minutes were circulated officially by Dr Kapila Vatsyayan in her capacity as the Director of the Centre with the observation, "The Minutes of this meeting have been approved by Smt Sonia Gandhi, President of the IGNCA Trust."
What did the assembled personages discuss and approve? Even if the topics seem mundane, do read them carefully -- for they contain a vital clue, the Sherlock Holmes clue so to say, about what did not happen.
The minutes report that the following subjects were discussed:
1: Indira Gandhi Memorial Fellowship Scheme and the Research Grant Scheme.
2: Commemoration volume in the memory of Stella Kramrisch.
3: Sale of publications of the IGNCA.
4: Manuscripts on music and dance belonging to the former ruling house of Raigarh in M P
5: Report on the 10th and 11th meetings of the Executive Committee.
6: Approval and adoption of the Annual Report and Annual Accounts, 1993-94.
7: Bilateral and multilateral programmes of IGNCA, and aid from U N agencies, Ford Foundation, Japan Foundation, etc.
8: Brief report on implementation of programmes from April 1994 to March 1995.
9: Brief of initiatives taken by IGNCA to strengthen dialogue between Indian and Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, China.
10: Documentation of cultural heritage of Indo-Christian, Indo-Islamic and Indo-Zoroastrian communities.
11: Gita Govinda project.
12: IGNCA newsletter.
13: Annual Action Plan, 1995-96.
14: Calendar of events. 15: Publications of IGNCA.
15: Matters relating to building project.
16: Allocations/release of funds for the IGNCA building project.
There is not one word in the minutes that the deed of the Trust was even mentioned.
This meeting took place on 18 May, 1995. On 30 May, 1995 Sonia Gandhi performed one of technical miracles. She wrote a letter to the Minister of Human Resources informing him of what she said were alterations in the Trust Deed which the trustees had unanimously approved. Pronto, the Minister wrote back, on 2 June, 1995: "I have great pleasure in communicating to you the Government of India's approval to the alterations."
The Minister? The ever-helpful, Madhav Rao Scindia. And wonder of wonders, in his other capacity he had attended the meeting on 18 May as a trustee of the IGNCA, the meeting which had not, according to the minutes approved by Sonia Gandhi, even discussed, far less "unanimously approved" changes in the Trust Deed.
And what were the changes that Sonia Gandhi managed to get through by this collusive exchange of two letters?
She became President for life.
The other trustees -- two-thirds of whom were to retire every ten years -- became trustees for life. The power of the Government to fill half the vacancies was snuffed out.
The power of the Government to appoint the Member Secretary of the Trust was snuffed out; henceforth the Trust would appoint its own Member Secretary.
The power of the President of India to appoint a committee to periodically review the functioning of the Trust was snuffed out; neither he nor Government would have any power to inquire into the working of the Trust.
A Government Trust, a Trust which had received over Rs. 134 crores of the tax-payers' money, a Trust which had received twenty three acres of invaluable land was, by a simple collusive exchange of a letter each between Sonia Gandhi and one of her gilded attendants became property within her total control.
The usurpation was an absolute fraud. The Trust Deed itself provided that no amendment to it could come into force -- on any reasonable reading could not even be initiated and adopted -- without prior written permission of the Government. Far from any permission being taken, even information to the effect that changes were being contemplated was not sent to Government. An ex post "approval" was obtained from an obliging trustee.
That "approval" was in itself wholly without warrant. Such sanctions are governed by Rule 4 of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961. This Rule prescribes that when a subject concerns more than one department, "no order be issued until all such departments have concurred, or failing such concurrence, a decision thereon has been taken by or under the authority of the Cabinet." Other departments were manifestly concerned, concurrence from them was not even sought. The Cabinet was never apprised.
The rule proceeds to provide, "Unless the case is fully covered by powers to sanction expenditure or to appropriate or re-appropriate funds, conferred by any general or special orders made by the Ministry of Finance, no department shall, without the previous concurrence of the Ministry of Finance, issue any orders which may... (b) involve any grant of land or assignment of revenue or concession, grant... (d) otherwise have a financial bearing whether involving expenditure or not..."
And yet, just as concurrence of other departments had been dispensed with, no approval was taken from the Finance Ministry.
The Indian Express and other papers published details about the fraud by which what was a Government Trust had been converted into a private fief. Two members of Parliament -- Justice Ghuman Mal Lodha and Mr. E. Balanandan -- began seeking details, and raising objections.
For a full two and a half years, governments -- of the Congress(I), and the two that were kept alive by the Congress(I), those of Mr. Deve Gowda and of Mr. I. K. Gujral -- made sure that full facts would not be disclosed to the MPs, and that the concerned file would keep shuttling between the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Law.
As a result, Sonia Gandhi continues to have complete control over governmental assets of incalculable value -- through technicalities collusively arranged.
A latter-day Dalhousie -- annexation of Indian principalities through technicalities!
September 13, 1999