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Do I believe Salman?

columns Updated: Oct 20, 2012 22:25 IST
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There's one question that's dominated the last week. It's been asked again and again. Equally significantly, it's been put by a wide range of people. "Do you believe Salman Khurshid?" My answer is simple and blunt: yes.

Now let me explain. No doubt there have been several irregularities. Some beneficiaries didn't receive what they should have, others did not get anything at all. Some names could turn out to be fictitious or false, others hard to trace. But when you're dealing with thousands of people in the villages of Uttar Pradesh this is inevitable. Sadly, this is how India often functions.

Let's, therefore, turn to the issues this situation raises. The first important question is what does it amount to? Inefficient distribution? Undoubtedly. Lack of supervision? Very possibly. Poor management? Perhaps. But can you stretch that to defalcation of funds or embezzlement? I don't think so. In fact, I'd say no.

The second important question is can you pin the blame on Louise or Salman Khurshid? Only if that's what you're determined to do. Not otherwise. It's like blaming the prime minister or the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when you identify leaks or faults with MNREGA in Bulandshahr or Mainpuri.

Of course Louise and Salman carry the responsibility for what's gone wrong. As heads of the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust they'd be the first to accept that. But that doesn't make them guilty of the wrongdoing that's been identified. Responsible, as people at the top must be, but not personally culpable.

Incidentally, Aroon Purie, the editor-in-chief of Aaj Tak, the channel that broadcast the allegations, seems to agree with my opinion. This is what he wrote in a letter to Louise on the 8th: "I am of the view that some persons in the Trust or those associated with it are indulging in wrongdoings which you and Salman may not be aware of."

Ultimately, all analysis and evidence apart, I have three deeper reasons for believing Salman. First, I've known him since I was 21 and cannot believe he would forge letters or pilfer money meant for the handicapped. Second, I admire his willingness to subject himself to a rigorous interview less than two hours after returning from London. A man with a guilty conscious would have ducked for cover instead. Third, he wouldn't sue for defamation if he did not have a credible and convincing defence. Oscar Wilde did that and look where he ended up!

I can, therefore, come to a tentative conclusion. So far nothing that has been revealed warrants resignation leave aside arrest. But, of course, an inquiry is necessary. That's undeniable and neither of the Khurshids would disagree.

The inquiry must focus on the allegation that some letters, including several testifying to the holding of camps and distribution of aids, bear forged signatures. This has to be cleared up. As yet, perhaps understandably, the Khurshids have no explanation for the alleged forgeries. In an interview he gave me Salman suggested Aaj Tak was "confused". Thirty minutes later, in his press conference, he said we must wait for the investigation into the matter to be completed.

On the other hand Salman did prove - and pretty effectively - that camps were held and disability aids distributed. The photographs, news reports and first-person evidence he provided were, prima facie, convincing.

So, whilst there remain answers the Khurshids must give, let's not overlook the fact there is a lot of doubt and suspicion they've laid to rest.

Views expressed by the author are personal