This week Sonia Gandhi marks 15 years at the helm of India’s ruling Congress Party. In the Wall Street Journal today, I argue that opposing her for her Italian origins is both unfair and misguided. (Read it here.) It makes more sense to contest her backing of pie-in-the-sky policies that have contributed to India’s sharpest economic slowdown in a decade.
Here are three reasons to put the issue of Mrs. Gandhi’s foreign origin to bed once and for all:
1. She’s been in India longer than most Indians have been on the planet. Mrs. Gandhi first moved to New Delhi in 1968, the year she married Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s oldest son. She hasn’t lived anywhere else since. That, for the mathematically challenged among you, means she has spent 45 years in India, 19 years more than the country’s median age of 26 years.
2. India bases its citizenship on soil (jus soli) not blood (jus sanguinis). Simply put, this means that in theory anyone can become Indian, just as anyone can become American or British or French. In fact, Mrs. Gandhi has been an Indian national since 1983. Again, most Indians alive today weren’t even born when she swapped her Italian passport for an Indian one.
3. The people of India don’t care about this issue. On the face of it, this may be disputable. After all, didn’t the Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar famously split Congress in 1999 over the issue of Mrs. Gandhi’s foreign birth. And didn’t the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sushma Swaraj threaten to shave her head in protest after the BJP lost the 2004 elections and it looked like Mrs. Gandhi may become India’s first foreign born prime minister?
Yes, but keep in mind that Mr. Pawar and Ms. Swaraj are professional politicians. The fact remains that under Mrs. Gandhi’s absolute and uncontested leadership the Congress has won national elections twice. When she took over the party in 1998, Congress held power in just four states. Today that number has swelled to 13.If the people of India think Mrs. Gandhi is an evil foreigner scheming to place Italian interests above Indian ones, then why would they vote for her party over and over?
To sum up, there are plenty of good reasons to oppose Mrs. Gandhi. She symbolizes the rot of dynastic politics, and her government’s policies have hurt the economy and with it the prospects of hundreds of millions of Indians. Her failure to engage regularly with the press and public diminishes the quality of Indian democracy.
But none of these have anything to do with Mrs. Gandhi’s foreign origin. So if you oppose her, don’t do it because she’s Italian, but because she’s an Indian who backs some pretty awful ideas.
Sadanand Dhume is a columnist for the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal Asia and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Follow him on Twitter @dhume01.