Election petition against Sonia Gandhi dismissed, continues to remain an Indian citizen

Allahabad High Court:  Dismissing an election petition with costs challenging the election of Mrs Sonia Gandhi to the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareily Constituency on May 16, 2014 and her entitlement to be registered as an Indian citizen, the Court held that grant of citizenship cannot be challenged at this belated stage. The Court also observed that the petition lacked in material facts and did not constitute a complete cause of action.

Mrs Gandhi’s election was challenged on the ground that she was not a citizen of India as the words “citizens of India” under Article 84 of the Constitution referred to those persons who were citizens by birth or descent and not those who had acquired citizenship by registration. Besides, appeal by various  religious leaders to vote for her on religious lines during the election campaign amounted to corrupt practice and rendered her election void under Section 100(1)(b) of the Representation of People Act, 1951. The petitioner also challenged Section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, Rule 4 of the Citizenship Rules, 1956 and Form III prescribed therein as unconstitutional.

The Bench of Tarun Agarwala, J. held that as long as the certificate of citizenship issued under Section 5 was not challenged as in the instant case, the presumption of the validity of the certificate continues to remain in existence in view of Section 114 of the Evidence Act. The Court will presume that the certificate was validly issued by the prescribed authority after satisfying itself that the said person was entitled for grant of registration in her favour. The Court observed that since the petitioner had admitted that the respondent was granted Indian citizenship on 30th April, 1983, coupled with the fact that there is no challenge by the petitioner to the acquisition of the citizenship upon the respondent, such plea cannot be looked into at this belated stage after three decades. Such registration is still continuing and has not been cancelled, withdrawn or annulled till date. So long as the order issued under Section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act stands, Mrs Gandhi continues to remain a citizen of India.

As for the contention of indulging in corrupt practice, the Court observed that t is clear that the appeal to vote on the ground of religion must be the religion of that candidate. The appeal is to be made on the basis of the religion of the candidate for whom votes are solicited. There is no such assertion to this effect in the election petition. In fact the assertion is, that the appeal was to garner Muslim votes. Admittedly the respondent is not a Muslim. In order to constitute corrupt practice, it must be shown that the act was done during the election campaign between the date when the respondent became a candidate and the date of poll and that it was the act of the respondent or her agent or any other person with her consent to appeal to vote on the ground of her religion. As material facts are lacking, the Court found no cause of action arose on this issue. [Ramesh Singh v. Sonia Gandhi, 2016 SCC OnLine All 451, decided on  July 11, 2016]

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