The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foreign origin panel test-fired in Gujarat

Gandhinagar, Nov. 13: The Gujarat government has set up a panel to examine whether a person of foreign origin, even if an Indian citizen, can hold elected posts in local self-governments.

The thinly-veiled move is meant to rake up Sonia Gandhi’s Italian antecedents days before chief minister Narendra Modi goes for campaigning in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The three-member committee headed by Gujarat law minister Ashok Bhatt will recommend to the state cabinet within three months changes in the law, if necessary, government spokesperson I.K. Jadeja said yesterday.

In Gujarat, there is no “person of foreign origin” who holds any elected post, be it in the panchayats, civic bodies or the Assembly.

However, there are several Gujaratis who hold high posts in countries they have made their second home. At least four Gujaratis — Prof. Megnath Desai, Prof. Bhiku Parekh (former vice-chancellor of MS University), Lord Navneet and Lord Adam — are members of the House of Lords in the UK.

The BJP, which has been courting Gujarat’s huge NRI population to boost its sagging economy in the aftermath of the riots, is unconcerned about the repercussions of its move. “We do not care,” said state party chief Rajendrasinh Rana.

The issue is too important to ignore, he said. There may not be any person of foreign origin holding any post in Gujarat, but “this is what we want” and we want it to be the future direction of the country, said the BJP leader. Gujarat has taken the lead, let the nation follow it, Rana said, justifying the government’s move.

The issue, he said, is not being raked up to counter the Congress. “We want to pass a legislation to ban any person or foreign origin from holding elected posts in Gujarat. And the committee set up today (Wednesday) is an exercise in that direction.”

The Opposition Congress dismissed the move as a “political stunt” which, it said, is likely to backfire.

“The cabinet is not empowered to adopt such unconstitutional resolution and neither can constitute any committee as per the Constitution. The proposed amendment is only aimed at curbing fundamental rights of citizens,” Opposition leader Amarsinh Chaudhary said today.

State party vice-president Hasmukh Patel yesterday said the issue has been settled by the Supreme Court, but the BJP wants to exploit it in the coming Assembly elections.

Modi will campaign in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan from November 18.

Asked what prompted the government to set up the committee, Jadeja said there is a popular demand for enacting a law to ban people of foreign origin from holding the elected posts of sarpanch, district panchayat president and mayor. But he could not specify who has raised this demand in Gujarat.

Political analyst Achut Yagnik called the decision an “exercise in futility” and cheap populist propaganda. He wondered how the BJP would treat the large number of Sindhis who migrated from Pakistan to Gujarat after Partition. Will the Sindhis now be treated as India citizens of foreign origin' he wondered.

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