Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Non-Nativist Exclusion: A non-debate in India

I just read an interesting post by Sandy Levinson on the blog, Balkinization on Nativism and the American Right. Levinson endorses abolishing the American Constitutional provision that the President and Vice President shall be a natural born citizen. He writes: “We should not be proud of the fact that the only explanation for Arnold Schwarzenegger's absence from the presidential race is the fact that he, by being born abroad, he is an irredeemably second-class citizen so far as the Constitution is concerned. I obviously wouldn't support him, but that's entirely different from prohibiting his candidacy on nativist grounds.” Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-born Governor of the U.S.State of California.

Levinson refers, while reviewing Larry Sabato’s recent book on Constitutional reform, to the argument of those who favour the retention of the clause. One view is that it would be good to have people in the White House (and the Vice Presidency) who were familiar with the "rule of law,". He asks: “Why would anyone seriously think that limiting the pool for presidents and vice presidents would produce such people? That certainly isn't the case with the present President and Vice President, nor, frankly, did I ever get the impression that Bill Clinton was willing to walk an extra mile for "the rule of law" ...And does anyone seriously believe that Rudy Giuliani has any commitment to the rule of law? (Giuliani currently is seeking Republican nomination in 2008 U.S.Presidential election) It is nothing more than bigoted nativism to believe that being a native-born citizen is the relevant marker. Obviously, I don't believe that all naturalized citizens are paragons of the rule of law. Just take a look at many leaders of the Cuban-American community in Miami. The point is that there is simply no reason to believe that birth-status correlates with the good we're trying to identify, i.e., "commitment to the rule of law."

While reading the post, I cannot resist the temptation to compare similar illogical, but seemingly patriotric arguments advanced against the candidature of Sonia Gandhi for the Indian Prime Ministership,in 2004 even though her critics, including the mercurial Subramanian Swamy have been unable to establish any irregularity in her acquisition of Indian citizenship.

Does not the absence of the U.S.-like provision in the Indian Constitution point to the maturity of the Indian Constitution makers? Sonia Gandhi may be as competent or as incompetent like any other natural-born Indian to be chosen as the PM. Because of the Opposition’s illogical opposition to her becoming the PM, we now have the aberration of having a PM, who is otherwise competent, with no real powers. In other words, there is force in the suggestion that Sonia Gandhi, as the Chairperson of the UPA, may be said to exercise or influence the PM’s powers with no accountability.

Interestingly, the advocates of the reservation of high Constitutional posts to the natural-born citizens have often pointed out to the U.S. provision. Levinson's post can persuade them to realise that the U.S. provision is not a sacred cow.

The link to my article on the question published in 2001 is here.
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