India’s top court on Thursday threw out a petition seeking to bar Rahul Gandhi from contesting the ongoing general election over claims he is secretly British.
The 48-year-old scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty is the main challenger to Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a second term in office after storming to power in 2014.
Opponents of Gandhi accuse him of lying about his nationality and allege that he holds British citizenship, citing annual returns filed by a now-defunct British company in which he was once a director.
India does not allow dual nationality and only Indian citizens can contest elections. The Supreme Court called the petition frivolous and an attempt to start a “roving inquiry” into the long-standing claims against Gandhi.
“Just because a paper notes his citizenship as British, does he become a British citizen?” a bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi said.
Gandhi, whose mother Sonia is Italian-born and whose father was assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, has always denied holding foreign citizenship.
India’s home ministry, controlled by Modi’s government, last month shot off a letter to Gandhi asking him to come clean on the issue.
The court’s ruling comes as in the final days of the country’s marathon seven-week election, in which 900 million voters will decide the leader of the world’s biggest democracy. The final day of voting is on May 19 with results due four days later.
Gandhi and Modi have traded almost daily barbs over corruption, national security and the economy during the campaign.
At a public rally in Delhi on Wednesday, Modi, 68, accused the Gandhi family of using an India Navy warship as its “personal taxi” when Rahul’s father Rajiv was the prime minister.
“Rajiv Gandhi was accompanied by his in-laws who had come from Italy.
Question is whether the security of the country was not compromised by taking foreigners onboard a warship,” Modi said.
Rajiv was assassinated in 1991 by a Tamil suicide bomber when Rahul was 20. Modi last week called the former prime minister “corrupt” while on the campaign trail.
“Your Karma awaits you. Projecting your inner beliefs about yourself onto my father won’t protect you. All my love and a huge hug,” Gandhi tweeted in response.
The penultimate round of India’s election takes place on Sunday with citizens in the capital New Delhi among those casting ballots.