There are some questions the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi will never answer. The question of a false affidavit on her educational background is one such.
Indian democracy does not insist on a minimum qualification for a candidate to contest an election. And this makes it morally binding on candidates not to be boastful of academic attainments while they file the nomination papers. Politicians are known to understate their wealth in the sworn affidavit. But while the Congress Rae Bareily candidate is extremely humble in declaring her assets, on the Cambridge connection, she is plainly exaggerated. Is Sonia Gandhi guilty of perjury per se, as the Janata Party leader Dr Subramanian Swamy alleges? As of now the subject is attracting attention in two unconnected fora.
The matter is in focus once again after the icon of renunciation filed her nomination papers last week for the by-election she caused in Rae Bareily a few days ago. Reports quoting Dr Swamy say that Sonia Gandhi has once again changed her qualification description in her latest affidavit. The details in the statement on education filed by the Congress leader for the May 2004 Parliamentary poll and for the by-election slated for May 8, 2006 are different. In her 2004 nomination papers Ms. Gandhi had claimed in the affidavit that she had been educated in the University of Cambridge. The University of Cambridge in three separate letters in clarification had denied that Ms Gandhi was ever admitted as a student in the University. In her nomination filed on April 17, 2006, Sonia Gandhi now claims that she received a certificate in English from Lennox Cook School in the city of Cambridge, UK. It is obvious that the Cambridge University is not the Cambridge city. But the University is in the city. It is like saying that a certificate from a Delhi coaching institute is a degree from Delhi University.
The affidavit of the Congress leader was in news on earlier occasions also. The matter is kept alive for two reasons. One, the persistent efforts of a group of senior leaders like George Fernandes, Dr Swamy and others to get to the bottom of the truth. The other, Ms Sonia Gandhi'sequally confounding evasion and the stated discrepancies in successive affidavits. The Election Commission has repeatedly taken a lenient view, though the issue in question was perjury.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court is presently hearing a petition in this regard. ?It is a question of the sanctity of an affidavit, especially since the Supreme Court had held in 2002 that it is the fundamental right of every citizen to know the true antecedents of a candidate?, says Dr Swamy.
If perjury is proved, it is an offence under Sections 171 and 191 of the Indian Penal Code and under Section 125A of the Representation of People'sAct. In fact, earlier in the Lok Sabha Who is Who Sonia Gandhi had claimed to have received her qualification from the Cambridge University. But when the then Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi made a query on a complaint Ms Gandhi replied that the claim of having studied in the University of Cambridge was a typing mistake. This shifting stand of the Congress leader on a matter of her knowledge is making it curiouser and gripping. The matter is coming up again in the Lucknow bench on May 15. To the best of our knowledge Sonia Gandhi has changed her statement on her educational qualifications at least thrice in the recent past. And if one can write about a qualification in so many ways on each occasion it is debatable after all.