Salman Khurshid: A profile in courage

Salman Khurshid, the law minister, was until recently a good Muslim to have in government.

Delightful he was, because he wasn’t a greybeard. Different, because he was never hysterical. Dapper, because he didn’t wear a skullcap. Distinctive because he could speak English with a flair only native speakers have. He was in every sense the fair guy. Witty and erudite, just what you would expect from those who went to Oxford.

Now, Delhi is thick with talk that Khurshid’s chips are somewhat down. Those claiming to be in the know tell me that he is being disproportionately blamed for the Congress party’s defeat in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections.

Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan – unless you are forced to adopt it, as in Khurshid’s case. Defeat, it seems, has been almost dumped in his laps. Nobody else wants to touch it even with a barge pole.

The general view in the Congress, I am told, is that Khurshid’s utterances while wooing Muslim voters in UP led to a “communalization” of the party’s electioneering platform and this hurt the party.

An official party probe, led by defence minister AK Antony, is said to have drawn this conclusion too. Read article

Most newspaper reports have reported the purported findings along these lines, despite the probe report being a secret document that has not been made public.

Although covering the Congress is not an easy affair for any reporter, I don’t particularly trust all that is reported about it, especially when it is about high-level affairs.

Its leaders seldom come on record. Its reports are mostly confidential. Its official spokespersons hardly say anything really newsworthy. For example, if you were to ask them today what is there in the report on the UP elections, you may have to contend with an answer that is a veritable conversation-stopper: “The report is before the party leadership. I have nothing more to add or subtract from this.” Hmnn, Congress mumbo jumbo! Therefore, much gossip and hearsay is passed around as news stories.

Yet, if what is being reported about Khurshid is true, then I for one will stand up for him.

Khurshid was one saving grace for his government during the disastrous Anna Hazare negotiations.

He does carry a chip on his shoulder, but is not contemptuous in his attitude. He doesn’t speak arrogantly to journalists, unlike many of his colleagues.

At a time when the judiciary was blowing hot over a fumbling UPA government, Khurshid, after becoming law minister, effectively communicated the government’s position on many tricky issues to the courts.

The results are there to see: the courts have been less harsh in their criticism now, probably because they have a better picture of where things stand.

In Khurshid, the UPA has a presentable Muslim face with a world view for the rest of the Muslim world, where Indian interests are involved. He could be a handy tool in talks with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on many issues, a role the Congress has never explored.

Yet, Khurshid is lonely at the top.

It’s difficult being Muslim. It’s even tougher being a Muslim minister.

At times, you could be accused of not being Muslim enough by your own ilk. And at other times, when you articulate concerns of the community, you instantly stand accused of being regressive.

So, what did Khurshid do or say that went so horribly wrong? He is said to have played to the gallery to secure Muslim votes, which I think he did, by highlighting a 4.5% reservation (in jobs and education) assured for so-called “backward” minorities.

In fact, Khurshid went a step ahead by promising a 9% quota for backward minorities. Give me one good reason why he shouldn’t have?

In other words, my question is what stops a politician from selling a policy-decision taken by his government to the electorate? At the cost of repeating, let me rephrase that once again: in a parliamentary democracy, what prevents a politician from highlighting his party’s affirmative action agenda? The short answer is, nothing.

How “communal” was Khurshid’s quota pledge until the Election Commission took it up, twisted it and heroically played it up? Why did the BJP manisfesto get away with a promise to build a Ram temple yet again?

The human mind works in amazing ways. At the election watchdog’s helm is another Muslim: SY Qureshi.

Muslims in high offices tend to make extra efforts to appear secular. It’s an unconscious reflex action that stems from the ‘burden of being Muslim’. It’s what I call the identity-remission syndrome, i.e. the act of demonstrating the remitting, surrendering, resigning, or giving up one’s social identity to prove neutrality.

So, Qureshi had to hysterically demonstrate his secular credentials by dubbing Khurshid’s utterances communal. A non-Muslim in his place would probably have been less harsh because he would not have felt the need to prove a point. Conversely, in his case, secularism would have meant not being hysterical when it came to Muslim issues.

The other ‘crime’ Khurshid committed was to say certain things about the Batla House shootout, in which alleged terrorists were killed by Delhi police.

Without even going into the credentials of the alleged terrorists killed, are we trying to say that Khurshid, as a Muslim leader, should have done nothing to end the needless ostracism of their families, share their agony and feel the pain?

If these youths were innocent, too bad. If they weren’t, too bad, then too. My gripe is Khurshid should have visited these families long ago and understand their plight, not when their votes mattered.

The bottom line is, if law must take its own coarse, so must human gesture.

We forget BJP leader LK Advani petitioning the PM to ask for a review and fair probe in cases of terror being pursued against certain Hindutva-professing individuals. They too are alleged terrorists.

Lastly, the impression that Khurshid’s campaign strategy hurt the Congress is fallacious. In the UP elections, an extrapolation of the Congress’s final vote share by social groups show that the biggest chunk (18%) came from Muslims. See here

Secondly, it was not Khurshid who paved the way to the Congress’s electoral mess with the 4.5% reservation card. This had been a promise mentioned in the national poll manifesto of the Congress party since the 2004 general election.

Thirdly, if the “quota” promise was bad politics, then why did it work for the Samajwadi Party, which promised a competitive reservation system proportionate to the state’s minority population?

The point is, if group-differentiated rights and affirmative action for minorities are legitimate part of UPA’s policies, what makes raising them before voters illegal?

My own conclusions are pretty clear: when things go wrong, blame it on something that has to do with Muslims. It helps save a lot of other skins.

As for Khurshid, I think he has only courageously come into his own. A few lines from John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage come to mind:

“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of his conscience — the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men — each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient — they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”

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  • Abu Ahmed

    People appreciate purposeful Yatras, whether on foot or vehicle. Self-serving Yatras don’t cut much ice with the Janta, however much attractive be the media build-up.


  • Avinash Sethi

    Rightly put that these politicians should reach the people every year. They should do pad-yatra rather than (five star) rath yatra, only then they may be able to understand the hardships of common man.


  • Ashok

    Jayalalithaa may not be happy with prostrations alone, might like to have a stab at the premiership as well.


    Anonymous Reply:

    That is what ‘empresses’ are for.


  • Anonymous

    Sanghvi as usual is playing apologist for Congress. He is shifting all blame on DMK giving clean chit to Sonia and Rahul. What makes him think that Sonia and Rahul did not make money out of 2G scam?

    Congress is also involved in CWG scams..Now Sanghvi will hold only Kalmadi responsible for this.

    MMS may be an honest man but he has enabled corruption so that his bosses can make money.

    The journos like Sanghvi can not defend congress shamelessly anymore. We still remember Radia tapes.


  • Anonymous

    @ Vir Sanghvi

    Dr Manmohan Singh would have continued to rule well… but the advent of CHotta baba and his guru, Digvinash singh, made to Congress insult MMS to make Chotta baba look good.

    In the end, the COngress looks like a third rate party willing to sell everything for votes. It makes fun of the policemen in the Batla house encounter, is willing to follow the Jinnah agenda to win elections in UP and calls Bin Laden “Osmaji.”

    It deserves a kcik in the rump — whihc we will all give.


  • Deep

    Excellent analysis, write and read. And the truth of the matter.


  • Abu Ahmed

    The calculations of the UPA govt were quite simple: Let Raja make money for his bosses. Eventually he would be cuaght in the web and his crimes exposed. Judicial process would get rolling, licenses would be cancelled. This would lead to making auction of all natural resources to the the highest bidder a policy issue. Auctioning of 2G spectrum would recover all the losses and more for the UPA, thereby enriching the govt’s coffers. If not a moral, it will be legally clean and the finances of the country would improve. So, the UPA saved itself all these years, allowed Raja & DMK to be made the scape-goat (after all DMK got the lion’s share), and in the next elections it would be able to face the public with less tar and lesser fear of the voter. DMK alone is the Faustus which had paid the price already, UPA is setting the record and the budget straight after all and would come up trumps, despite Sangh Parivaar’s machinations


  • Ravi


    I totally agree with you


    Anonymous Reply:

    Please dont spread hatred and lies here as u do everywehre. Otherwise I will ask Rajeev and Shenoy to visit this blog/


  • Ashok

    The concept underlying NCTC is sound. It should be taken up for serious implementation when circumstances are more supportive. The state police forces have their limitations and are certainly not equipped to effectively counter a problem which has such a large external dimension.


  • Girish Nayak

    Even now if citizens of all states do not want Modi as PM then atleast create any person like Modi in every state as a CM who can work what modi has done for Gujarat.

    There after Congress will never come to power like in Gujarat. There will no voting on base of cast or religion all are equals no one specials, no appeasment

    Select Modi of your state and enjoy real democracy with development.


  • arun

    The dilution is because of ‘Bureaucratic Control’ a la “Yes Minister”. Bold decisions, require political will which is conspicuous by its absence due to “coalition dharma”.


  • Mohit

    Mr Zia Haq is behaving media personal manager, just for some free bies from, Salman Khurshid, No doubt Mr Salman Khurshid is a good human being, no doubt about it, but as far as politician is concerned he has some shortcomings also one must accept that but writer here is blind follower of mr Salman Khurshid


  • anil

    [The general view in the Congress, I am told, is that Khurshid’s utterances while wooing Muslim voters in UP led to a “ c o m m u n a l i z a t i o n ” of the party’s electioneering platform and this hurt the party.]

    Yes, he missed the under laying message that ” c o m m u n a l i z a t i o n of society is ok but not the “platform” that pays dividends and brings long term benefit.

    Salman’s decisions are indeed short sighted, although, there is not much difference between what he wants and his party man/women want. Poor Salman! He should have grown up a bit!


    anil Reply:

    [In other words, my question is what stops a politician from selling a policy-decision taken by his government to the electorate? At the cost of repeating, let me rephrase that once again: in a parliamentary democracy, what prevents a politician from highlighting his party’s affirmative action agenda? The short answer is, nothing.]

    See above for answer where I said “communatization of society is OK” but not the “platform”.


  • pradeep kumar

    Good place to write a biased article, just show your loyalties.


  • Abu Ahmed

    A leader committed to the all-round growth of India and all Indians is any day my leader, regardless of his/her name or religion.


  • Abu Ahmed

    Salman Khurshid’s problem is that he is too much UP-centric to wear a pan-Indian Muslim leader tag. If he wishes to lay claim over leadership of Muslims, he will have to at least visit central India, like Hyderabad, once in a while and also go to bangaluru, chennai, mallapuram – apart from Guwahati and Ahmedabad (if he is daring enough) and make himself aware of the Muslim issues there. Unfortunately, all these so-called Muslim leaders, either of the Congress or of the SP, cannot see beyond UP and are hampered with their frog’s-view and yet want party, people and country to accept them as great Muslim leaders – that is why they fail. That is why the Congress too have failed in UP – u cannot allow Narender Modi to continue in Gujarat while claiming to be a secular party.


  • Abu Ahmed

    Congress’s commitment to secularism leaves much to be desired – that is why they lost elections in UP. Instead of addressing this issue, they are searching for scape-goats. Narender Modi is a symbol of a politics where coming and staying in power is all that counts, mass murder or ethnic cleansing notwithstanding. Sorry – N Modi stands for the worst in politics. Gujarat was always an industrial & trading hub. N Modi tricked others in believing its success story to be his personal one – thats a slap on the age-old enterprising spirit & industry of all Gujaratis.


    Sumit Bose Reply:

    @ Abu, Your emotional rant flies in the face of logic.
    Ethnic ( rather religious) cleansing has been aggressively persued by Islamic societes. Just look at the census figures of Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq Egypt, Iran, ndonesia, Malaysia etc etc. That brutal record should silence you, even if you are totally blank on the religious cleansing carried out so throughly in the Kashmir valley just 2 decades ago. But you rave and rant. The real reason, is that Hindus in Gujarat had collectively decided that they would not tolerate any more provocations from one paricularly nasty community.


    RajX Reply:

    You rant against Modis massacre but you are quiet about a hundred times bigger massacre of nonmuslims in Kashmir. Shows that you are just another communal muslim. People have figured out now that Muslims are very different because the forces of arabization have successfully done their dirty deed on Muslims everywhere. So go on ranting for ummah but not for humanity. No secular person will believe that you are sincere.