It was curiosity about the citizenship of BJP's Goa MLA Glenn Ticlo — it was alleged that he had a Portuguese citizenship — that led Roshan Shah, 38, a serial entrepreneur to file an RTI in the PMO requesting information about MPs and MLAs who are foreign nationals or hold passports of other countries.
"The reply I received surprised me. My query was directed to the Election Commission which wrote to me saying that they had no such data available!" said Shah.
"It was then I realised how easy it was for a foreign national to fight elections in India and to get elected to the Parliament," said Shah. To test his hypothesis, Shah decided to contest the elections not from one, but two seats.
"As I filled the form and my candidature was scrutinised, I realised that nowhere do they ask the candidates to state on oath that you are an Indian citizen. They ask about criminal records and assets and liabilities but what about the basic rule that only Indian citizens can contest elections. This shows how poorly the candidates are scrutinised by the returning officer," said Shah.
"After my candidature was cleared and I was assigned the ballot number and symbol (a calculator), I wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner of Gujarat and India Anita Karval and VS Sampath respectively, stating clearly that I was a Canadian citizen and why my candidature was not cancelled."
"Had my intentions been malafide, I would not have revealed my citizenship. What I am trying to show is how poor the process of scrutiny is. How easy it is for anyone to contest a poll in India. I have not lied on oath. There is nothing in Election nomination forms that wants candidate to disclose citizenship," said Shah.
He said it is time the EC takes up the matter and makes it mandatory for candidates to reveal their citizenship. "We also need to know how many of our sitting MLAs and MPs, who frame laws for India and its states, are passport holders of other countries. It is surprising that we have no such data," said Shah.
He further added that more time should be given to returning officers to closely scrutinise what candidates write on their forms. "This is very important if we want to clean up politics," said Shah.
Chief Electoral Officer, Anita Karval said the Election Commission had no mechanism in place to check the candidates' citizenship. "We don't have any such mechanism in to check if a candidate is an Indian citizen or not. We assume that if not an Indian citizen, he will not be contesting the elections," said Karval.
Shah said another reason for contesting was a bad experience that he had with the police and the state administration in general. Shah said he realised how irresponsive the system was after he had to haggle with the police to get a case of cheque dishounoured registered.
"I realised that the system was loaded against you if you are a common man with no connections," said Shah. "My case was registered with the Maninagar police — CM's constituency — after a long battle. If this is how the police behaves in the CM's constituency you can wonder how it will be in others," said Shah, who lives with his family of five including his parents.
What I am trying to show is how poor the process of scrutiny is. How easy it is for anyone to contest a poll in India. I have not lied on oath. There is nothing in Election nomination forms that wants
candidate to disclose citizenship
— Roshan Shah, Independent candidate from Ahmedabad East & Kheda