Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has been in the news recently for three rather surprising reasons. First, for no explicable reason, Ms. Gandhi has been invited to address the United Nations General Assembly next month, though she is neither a head of government or a head of state; but is only the chief of a political party that leads India'sruling coalition regime.
In terms of protocol, there can be little doubt that Ms. Gandhi lacks the status to address the UN, and the invitation to her is only a recognition of her Italian origins and underlines the Western-Christian bias of the nations that dominate this international body.
Propriety demands that she drop the idea of going to New York, even at this late stage, if only because the government she manipulates is on a particularly sticky wicket and unable to deliver on foreign expectations roused.
Secondly, Ms. Gandhi has, to everyone'ssurprise, figured on the Forbes list of the sixth most influential woman in the world. Now, everyone knows that the Forbes list deals exclusively with persons who matter in terms of international business and trade, and this can certainly explain the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. But Ms. Gandhi does not wield political or economic power directly, so questions must be asked about her presence on a list devoted to those who promote Western corporate interests.
One does not need to look too far: her countryman and close personal friend, Mr. Ottavio Quattrocchi facilitated the Bofors arms deal and Ms. Gandhi allegedly used her personal dominance over the current UPA regime to provide him access to the frozen loot in London banks and a walkover in an Argentina court. The question naturally arises: was Ms. Gandhi'spresence in the Forbes list timed to coincide with India'saccepting the Indo-US nuclear deal in toto, to the full satisfaction of the United States?
This brings us to the third reason for her being in the news: in a letter to Congress workers, published in the August 2007 issue of the official party magazine, Sandesh, Ms. Gandhi termed the nuclear deal ?historic.? Sadly, the publication hit the stands right at the time when the Left parties started putting the brakes on this ?historic? achievement of the party'sNorthern Italian leadership.
Still, her remarks are noteworthy, if only for the level of obfuscation and dishonesty that characterizes the nuclear deal: ?This month India and the United States have signed the historic 123 agreement that lifts the decades old embargo against nuclear trade with India. This will allow India to expand its energy sector to meet the growing demands of our economic growth and put an end to the power shortages that we are all familiar with. It will help us expand power generation for our agricultural sector and our growing industrial sector. Throughout the negotiations with the USA, Parliament, our UPA allies, the Left parties and the Opposition parties have been kept informed. We have negotiated with America keeping our national interest in the forefront and India'snuclear defence programme has been in no way undermined. This agreement is recognition of the achievements of India'sscientists who have worked diligently to keep our indigenous nuclear programme alive. We congratulate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his team of able negotiators who have hammered a treaty that satisfies all the conditions laid out before Parliament, and brought home an agreement that is in the long-term interests of India.?
Eminent writers in this newspaper have over the past few weeks torn these lies to shreds. Here I would only like to add that a number of nationalist scientists and security experts feel that a major unstated reason behind the enthusiasm of some persons and groups for the nuclear deal is the sheer windfall to be gathered in terms of ?kickbacks.? The sheer cost of the multi-crore nuclear reactors, not to mention fuel, has no relationship with the actual amount of electricity generated, and it is well known that this deal will in no way solve our energy needs in the coming century; hence the only benefit can be a ?hidden? one. This is a facet that needs a public articulation in coming days.
It is high time that Indian political parties and commentators began to put the Gandhi family under the same scrutiny reserved for other eminences. For instance, at precisely the moment when megastar Amitabh Bachchan and his family members have been hounded by the Congress-friendly government of Uttar Pradesh and Congress government of Maharashtra for purchasing farmland and claiming agricultural status, why has the never-once-employed Ms. Priyanka Vadera been given special permission by the Congress government of Himachal Pradesh to purchase over four-bighas of agricultural land in prestigious downtown Shimla. What is that status of Ms. Vadera and her husband Robert, that entitles them to VIP security and the right to buy land in an area reserved for the retreat of the Prime Minister and the President?
Even more astonishingly, the local unit of the Congress party appears to have been roped in to find the plot and enable the Vaderas to buy it. Local Congress leader K.S. Khacchi told journalists: ?It was the best available land that we have got for the daughter of our leader Sonia Gandhi. The best possible efforts would be made to ensure that the structure that comes up is unique and scenic in more ways than one.? Is this a political party or a pocket borough? Mr. Khacchi revealed that the land cost only Rs. 46 lakh as government rates were applied; the market value is much higher on account of its proximity to Kalyani Helipad, Kufri village, which is famous for its snowfall, Punjab Raj Bhawan, the Himalayan School and the famous Oberoi Hotel. The state government relaxed Section 118 of the Land Reforms and Tenancy Act 1972 to enable Priyanka to buy the land as land cannot be sold to non-agriculturists (Himachalis or outsiders).
Cinestar Amitabh Bachchan, however, won no such reprieve for the 24 acres of prime land he bought near the beautiful hill resort of Lonavala in Maharashtra. Since the state'sTenancy & Agricultural Land Act of 1963 enables only farmers to buy and own agricultural land, Mr. Bachchan tried to protect his farmer status by buying farmland in Barabanki, UP. The subsequent controversy having taken a toll of his mental health, he has tried to dispose of the land by donating it to the village panchayats in both states, but this too is being disputed by authorities!
Yet another VIP who is being hounded mindlessly is film star Sanjay Dutt, who was provided a government vehicle during a recent trip to Vaishno Devi. Given Dutt'sstar status and the fact that his personal security was the responsibility of the Jammu & Kashmir government, the controversy is uncalled for, and need not be linked to his sentence in an arms case. It is a fact that he was travelling in a terrorism-infested area, hence there is no need to politicize the matter. Sanjay Dutt, like Amitabh Bachchan, is a celebrity in his own right; his privileges are not inherited.