The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This PagePrint This Page

When J. Jayalalithaa became chief minister, she donated a baby elephant to the Guruvayoor temple. When I become CM, I intend donating Jayalalithaa to the Guruvayoor temple. And to become CM, I am planning to move a bill in Parliament to ban fading actresses of cinematic origin from becoming chief minister.

“A little learning,” said Alexander Pope, “is a dangerous thing.” Jayalalithaa knows that the constitution of the United States of America says none but a natural-born American can become president. And so, she proclaims triumphantly, a naturalized Indian should not become prime minister. Excuse me, ma’am, but have you not forgotten one small detail' We are ruled, I thought, by the Indian, not the American constitution. And the Indian Constitution does not contain the rubbish to be found in clause five, section one, article II of the US constitution. Clause five was the consequence of one of the sickest bouts of politicking in the making of the US constitution. By the time it came to the drafting, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York had emerged as the two favoured blue-eyed boys of the undoubted leader, George Washington. But, as is usual with rival blue-eyed boys (for example, myself and the loathsome G. Parthasarathy in Rajiv Gandhi’s PMO!), Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other. So, Jefferson — or perhaps one of his acolytes — inserted into clause five a phrase about US presidents having to be natural-born. This would have prevented Hamilton from succeeding Washington because Hamilton happened to have been born on the island of Nevis in what was then the British West Indies — incidentally, of parents who had neglected to tie the wedding knot before getting on with the order of business.

The Hamilton camp struck back by inserting another qualifier which said that while naturalized Americans might be disqualified for the presidency in future, those (like Hamilton) who had become naturalized citizens by the time the constitution came into force would be exempted from this requirement. At the same time, others less concerned with such sordid back-stabbing were far more concerned at the prospect of the world’s first post-Athenian republic being subverted by the last-minute importation of blue blood from abroad. This was a real possibility — as evidenced by Washington’s own contribution to constitution-making, limited to the suggestion that the US president (that is, himself) might carry the title “His Mighty Highness”.

Fortunately for our generation, the suggestion was turned down and Washington had to make do with plain “Mr President” (“Fortunately” — because could you stomach the thought of His Mighty Highness George W. Bush III'). However, at the time, the danger of a last-minute decision to make a republican of a royal was so great (indeed, there was a cousin of the British sovereign, King George III, waiting to be summoned) that yet another phrase was added to clause five saying that while a naturalized citizen, who was an American citizen at the time the constitution entered into force, could become president, he had to have been resident in the US for at least 14 years before D-Day — a kind of 18th century green card provision. (Incidentally, Sonia Gandhi has been resident in India for the last 35 years, that is since about the time a somewhat more lissome Jayalalithaa began cavorting around trees to become Tamil Nadu’s favoured pin-up poster.)

Why does any of this matter' Because much of our Yankee lickspittle middle-class does not seem to realize that the US is the only country narrow-minded enough to have included such a discriminatory clause in its constitution. (Which, of course, is why what distinguishes India from America is that while we may be a developing country, America is a developing civilization!) None of the European monarchies could possibly have allowed such a constitutional provision because sovereigns were always a cut above their own citizens — and, therefore, had to find mates off-shore, or do without. So, all the kings and emperors of Europe were and are foreigners. (The Mountbattens changed their name when the British in 1914 started imprisoning Germans: their name till the outbreak of World War I was Battenberg!) The tradition was carried into the republics which replaced many of the European monarchies.

Specifically — J, to please note — the Italian constitution does not stand in the way of a naturalized Italian from becoming prime minister. I’ve just had a bright thought: perhaps we could export J to Italy — where she stands a rather better chance of becoming PM than here, for the Italians too have a tradition of electing film stars to parliament. (They even elected, but recently, a woman who regularly took off her clothes at election meetings!) And as for J’s politics, with Mussolini having set the style, J stands a damned good chance of catching the Italian fancy. (And if Sasikala refuses to go with her to Italy, she could always take Tavleen Singh — an excellent way of killing two birds with one stone!)

There are Indians and West Indians and Sri Lankans in the British government; men born in Pondicherry in the French government; Indians as PMs and presidents from Trinidad and Tobago to South Africa to Mauritius to Fiji; a Japanese has been president of Peru and a Syrian, president of Argentina; and Nasser Hussein is the captain of the English cricket team and an Algerian was captain of the French football team for the World Cup. What the hell then is Jayalalithaa bitching about' When Disraeli was accused in the House of Commons of being a Jew, he shot back, “When your ancestors were hunting bear skins for clothes god knows where, my forefathers were priests in the Temple of Solomon.”

Jayalalithaa served in the Eighties as a Rajya Sabha member of parliament (when M.G. Ramachandran, sick of her tantrums, banished her to Delhi). She must then have wandered into Central Hall to pass the time of day, as is de rigeur for all us parliamentarians. If she was not too busy preening, she might have noticed a plaque in the premises which proudly proclaims that the drafting of the Constitution of India began in this sacred hall on December 9, 1946. It was on December 9, 1946, that Sonia Gandhi was born in a village near Turin. She is exactly as old as the Indian Constitution. Can anything be more Indian than that'

Email This PagePrint This Page