BJP TESTS WATERS FOR SONIA BAR 

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By FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 3.12.99
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New Delhi, Dec. 3 :     The BJP today pushed through the backdoor the ticklish issue of denying Sonia Gandhi the opportunity to vie for high government offices. First-time MP Kirit Somaiyya moved a Bill seeking to disqualify people of foreign origin from holding such posts. However innocuous a private member?s Bill is, the move is being seen as a ??trial balloon?? floated by the party to assess the impact of the subject. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asserted that the foreign origin issue was part of the National Democratic Alliance election manifesto. ??I have not seen it, but every member has a right to move any Bill on any issue,?? the Prime Minister said. Although Somaiyya?s initiative may mean little in legislative terms ? very rarely are private Bills codified and legislated ?observers believe that from the BJP?s viewpoint, it serves two ends: First, to keep alive the ??foreign origin?? issue, especially since Sonia is leader of the Opposition. Second, to gauge the Opposition reaction and see how far the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party ? which share the BJP?s view ? are ready to back the government if it tables a full-fledged legislation. But Somaiyya?s Bill did not even ignite the Congress benches to the expected degree. Only two members ? P.K. Bansal and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi ? shouted in protest from the handful of Congressmen present in the post-lunch session. Bansal served a notice trying to block the Bill, saying it violated the basic spirit of the Constitution which guaranteed equal status and opportunity to all. Das Munshi, the Congress chief whip, ridiculed the Bill, saying: ??I was born in east Pakistan, but I am in this House today.?? He found support in IUML leader G.M. Banatwalla, who said: ??Even Abul Kalam Azad was born in Mecca but he went on to become the education minister.?? Somaiyya said that though the Constitution framers did not have the issue in mind, the term ??natural born?? citizen had been defined in the US Constitution and he read out parts of it. Privately, BJP sources did not think much of Somaiyya?s initiative. ??He is a child, let him have some fun,?? said a senior minister. ??If the government wants to bring a legislation, it will do so on its own and not through private initiative. But it was certainly the most interesting of all the Bills so far,?? he added. While the Congress officially said ??the people have given a befitting reply to a non-issue??, party insiders dismissed the Bill as ??pinprick??. Lok Sabha observers said Somaiyya was fortunate to have his Bill introduced. Normally, a part of every Friday?s business is set aside for private members? Bills. A ballot is conducted to list them. Somaiyya?s legislation topped the agenda today. Next Friday, there will be a fresh ballot for ??consideration?? of those Bills that are in queue for discussion. Somaiyya would have to be doubly lucky to have his legislation discussed. Private members? Bills last one session and there are only two Fridays left before the Lok Sabha winds up on December 23.