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DATE=5/17/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-249449 TITLE=INDIA / CONGRESS (L-ONLY) BYLINE=ANJANA PASRICHA DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: INDIA'S OPPOSITION CONGRESS PARTY IS GRAPPLING WITH A REBELLION AGAINST THE LEADERSHIP OF ITALIAN-BORN SONIA GANDHI. ANJANA PASRICHA REPORTS FROM NEW DELHI, THREE SENIOR CONGRESS LEADERS ARE QUESTIONING THE PARTY'S DECISION TO PROJECT MRS. GANDHI AS THE CANDIDATE FOR PRIME MINISTER IN THE SEPTEMBER GENERAL ELECTIONS. TEXT: ////BEGIN WITH NATURAL SOUND OF HINDI SLOGANS -- SONIA GANDHI ZINDABAD//// OUTSIDE THE CONGRESS PARTY OFFICE IN NEW DELHI, SUPPORTERS ARE RAISING SLOGANS ASSERTING THEIR LOYALTY TO PARTY PRESIDENT, SONIA GANDHI. BUT WITHIN ITS TOP RANKS, THE CONGRESS PARTY IS FACING SERIOUS DISSENT. THREE SENIOR LEADERS -- SHARAD PAWAR, PURNO SANGMA, AND TARIQ ANWAR -- HAVE SAID ONLY NATURAL-BORN INDIANS SHOULD HOLD THE COUNTRY'S HIGHEST OFFICES, INCLUDING THAT OF PRIME MINISTER. IN A LETTER THE DISSENTING LEADERS SAY, "IT IS NOT POSSIBLE THAT A COUNTRY OF 980 MILLION PEOPLE WITH A WEALTH OF EDUCATION, COMPETENCE AND ABILITY, CAN HAVE ANYONE OTHER THAN AN INDIAN, BORN OF INDIAN-ORIGIN TO HEAD ITS GOVERNMENT." THE THREE LEADERS BELONG TO THE 17-MEMBER CONGRESS WORKING COMMITTEE -- THE PARTY'S TOP POLICY-MAKING BODY. MRS. GANDHI TOOK OVER AS CONGRESS PARTY PRESIDENT LAST YEAR. SHE DID NOT CONTEST THE 1998 ELECTIONS. BUT THE PARTY, WHOSE POLITICAL FORTUNES HAVE TUMBLED IN RECENT YEARS, IS RELYING HEAVILY ON THE CHARISMA OF THE GANDHI NAME TO GIVE IT A WINNING EDGE IN THE COMING ELECTIONS -- AND IS PROJECTING HER AS PRIME MINISTER. MRS GANDHI SAYS SHE WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED BY THE ATTACKS ON HER. CONGRESS PARTY SPOKESMAN, AJIT JOGI, ALSO SAYS MRS. GANDHI'S ITALIAN-BIRTH IS NOT AN IMPORTANT ISSUE FOR EITHER THE PARTY, OR THE NATION. ///INSERT JOGI ACT/// THIS IS A NON-ISSUE. THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE. IT IS ONLY AN ATTEMPT BY THE B-J-P (BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY) AND THOSE WHO SUBSCRIBE TO THAT PHILOSOPHY TO DIVERT THE ATTENTION OF THE NATION FROM THE REAL AND MAIN ISSUES. ///END JOGI ACT/// BUT THE DISSENTING CONGRESS LEADERS SAY HER ITALIAN BIRTH COULD HURT, RATHER THAN HELP THE PARTY IN THE ELECTIONS. MRS. GANDHI'S FOREIGN BIRTH TURNED INTO A CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE AFTER SHE RAISED HER POLITICAL PROFILE IN RECENT MONTHS. THE RULING HINDU NATIONALIST PARTY SAYS IT WILL TURN IT INTO A MAJOR ELECTION ISSUE -- AND DEMAND THE COUNTRY'S CONSTITUTION BE AMENDED TO ALLOW ONLY NATURAL-BORN INDIANS TO HOLD THE NATION'S TOP JOB. NOW, WITH SENIOR CONGRESS LEADERS RAISING THE SAME DEMAND, THE CONGRESS PARTY FACES STRONG CRITICISM OF MRS. GANDHI'S FOREIGN BIRTH FROM BOTH WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THEIR PARTY. THE 52-YEAR OLD MRS. GANDHI HAS LIVED IN INDIA SINCE MARRYING FORMER PRIME MINISTER RAJIV GANDHI IN 1968. SHE BECAME AN INDIAN CITIZEN 14 YEARS LATER.(SIGNED) NEB/AP/PLM 17-May-99 6:23 AM EDT (1023 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .