New York: Sonia Gandhi has declined to provide a copy of her passport to a US court here as documentary evidence in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, citing refusal by the Indian government on grounds of personal security and confidentiality.
US District Judge Brian Cogan had last month asked Gandhi to provide some form of documentary evidence by April 7 to enable the court to make a determination about her presence in the United States.
The court order had come on a lawsuit filed by the rights groups Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) which claimed it had served summons on Gandhi when she had allegedly visited Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in the city for a medical check-up in September last year.
The lawsuit against Gandhi hinges on the issue of whether she was served summons on September 9 as the group claims or whether she was not present in the US during that time as per her assertion.
The SFJ has sought compensatory and punitive damages from Gandhi for her alleged role in “shielding and protecting” Congress party leaders including Kamal Nath, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler from prosecution for their alleged role in the 1984 riots.
Gandhi’s attorney Ravi Batra on Monday submitted before the court that his client has “nothing to hide”.
Batra handed over to court as exhibit a letter dated April 5 signed by Gandhi to him in which she states that “in matters of disclosure of my travels, which are contained in the passport document, the Government of India has informed me that they would not permit such a disclosure.
“However, as I have nothing to hide, I voluntarily relinquish the plea of lack of personal jurisdiction. I may add that the present submission is without prejudice to the plea of want of jurisdiction in relation to the subject matter.”
Batra, in his submission to court, said he was informed over the weekend that the Indian government has refused to permit the release of 67-year-old Gandhi’s passport because of “concerns with respect to her personal security and keeping confidential the methods used to protect her.
“It appears that much as our government’s Secret Service and Diplomatic Security agents need to keep their means and methods confidential, so too do the Indian authorities with respect to those they are charged with protecting,” he said.
He said that Gandhi “wishes to be as cooperative as she can” in resolving the lawsuit brought against her by the rights group to arrive at a final determination” of the case, “notwithstanding that she was not in the United States, nor served with process.”
Batra said Gandhi does not possess records of the US government agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection entry and exit stamps into and out of the US or records of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center “given she was not there during the subject period.”
Gandhi is keen to bring the case to an “expeditious resolution” without the delays that may be caused by requesting federal government agencies to produce travel records or by asking Sloan-Kettering to furnish “non-existent records,” Batra added.
She had previously filed a motion in court seeking dismissal of the lawsuit filed by SFJ, citing lack of personal jurisdiction and that she was never personally served with the summons in the case.
SFJ legal adviser G S Pannun alleged that successive Indian governments have “thwarted attempts of 1984 victims to seek justice.”