The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP, Cong in Sonia slugfest

New Delhi, Oct. 20: The battle for power in the Lok Sabha may be a year away but Sonia Gandhi’s “foreign” origin has become the object of a slugfest between the main contenders, the BJP and the Congress.

Four days after the Congress president went on an emotional high in a Jaipur public meeting that her patriotism and “Indianness” could not be challenged, the BJP said: “Merely accepting Bharatiya traditions and culture is not a certificate for becoming Prime Minister.”

Sonia had questioned which Indian tradition she had not adhered to as a daughter-in-law, a mother and a widow. To this, BJP general secretary and spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s riposte was: “Sonia Gandhi, by repeatedly proclaiming that she has accepted Bharatiya traditions, is trying to prove to the country that she has done a favour and in return the country should make her the Prime Minister of India.”

The BJP spokesman’s contention was that only a natural-born citizen should aspire for a constitutional post, and not someone who had become an Indian citizen after living in the country for 14 years.

“In this country, thousands of foreigners who are living and associated with various organisations involved in social services have accepted Bharatiya culture and traditions and we Indians respect and have regard for them. However, in return they have never made a claim for any of the constitutional positions of the country.”

His poser to the Congress was: “Is it a part of Bharatiya tradition that their party president did not accept Indian citizenship for 14 years' If the Congress views this as Bharatiya tradition and culture, one can only say that the Congress is forgetting the basic principles of Bharatiya tradition and culture.”

But he refused to take questions on which Indian tradition Sonia had flouted or whether Parliament should enact a law barring persons of foreign origin from claiming constitutional posts or whether Sonia would be a security threat if she became Prime Minister.

“I have said what I had to,” he said.

Naqvi claimed the Congress anticipated defeat in the Assembly elections because of its “confusing stand on policies, programmes and leadership” and was, therefore, seeking votes “either on the basis of Sonia Gandhi accepting Bharatiya traditions or blaming their failures on the central government”.

“However, they are unable to tell people what they have been able to achieve in the form of a good government during their rule,” he said.

The RSS, too, offered its own take on Sonia in the latest issue of its English mouthpiece, Organiser.

Its columnist, M.V. Kamath — also Prasar Bharti Board chairman — said: “The novelty of a white woman wearing a sari and reading her speech from a written text in Hindi and aping her mother-in-law’s manners has worn out. It is time Congress realises it.”

Defending Sonia, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said: “The BJP has accepted that Sonia Gandhi respects Indian traditions. The BJP does not have the right to issue a certificate.”

Calling the BJP an “issueless party”, Sharma said: “She is an elected president of the Congress and the leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The respect she has shown to Indian traditions and convention has been acknowledged and endorsed by people from Amethi to Bellary. We do not expect the BJP to say anything more.”

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