I have tremendous respect for Salman Khurshid. Okay. That’s not true and there’s no need for me to go overboard. I respect Salman Khurshid as a law minister (less as a minority affairs minister) and as an excellent lawyer with a blunt nose for handling tricky cases such as the one arguing that the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) be lifted.
But let’s just say he’s as good in politics as I am in fixing Lamborghinis.
Making a promise to provide 9% quota to Muslims within the existing 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) — “even if the EC (Election Commissioner) hangs me” — during an Uttar Pradesh assembly polls campaign rally is not only silly for getting his party into a wrangle with the Election Commission, but it also makes for stupid politics. If there was a single person to blame for the Muslim community running away from the Congress door after having pressed the doorbell, it had to be Khurshid.
And if the Congress needed a sign saying ‘HIT ME!’ to be nailed to its forehead, the otherwise bright and articulate Congress minister did the job when he brought up the tear-jerking scene of party chief Sonia Gandhi supposedly getting ‘emotional’ on seeing images of the Batla House ‘encounter’. (After initial reports, Khurshid had denied that he had said that Gandhi had cried.) UP’s Muslims reacted to these Congress overtures the way kids should to a stranger in the park doling out toffees in exchange for them sitting on his lap.
So let’s just say that Khurshid sucks at politics.
As the Union minister of law though, however much he may have been painted as a latter-day General Dyer against the Anna Hazare mob, in hindsight, the man did a great job for the company he works for: the UPA government. The Lokpal Bill’s still in the microwave; the government got what it wanted; and the Anna Gang is, to put it mildly, in disarray. At the forefront of this impressive governmental recovery was our political Mr Bean, Salman-bhai.
So it’s more than just a wee bit confounding to find last week Khurshid ‘offering’ to abdicate his position not for the love of a woman, but so that he could work for his party. That’s mighty odd on two counts. One, as a Congressman, Khurshid surely has tried his bit to ‘strengthen the party’ many times before — and has made a hash of it. Two, Khurshid is a capable and successful minister. That holds true for the three other ministers — rural development’s Jairam Ramesh, health’s Ghulam Nabi Azad and overseas Indian affairs’ Vayalar Ravi — who apparently offered to quit their jobs in government too so that they could roll up their sleeves and work for The Hand. (All the other three have denied making such an ‘offer’ at the temple of 10, Janpath.) The news of Khurshid being alone in playing the role of a Roman general deciding to fall on his own sword for botching up battleplans has been gaining ground, with the mention of the other three apparently to support his case.
Some pundits have spoke of a ‘Mind the GoP’ campaign in the manner of how the Congress party president in the 1960s, K Kamraj, launched a ‘recovery’ plan in which six Union ministers and six chief ministers left the government to work to revitalise The Hand. This is all very sweet Mother Goddess worship. But in Kamraj’s case, the people who left their jobs to serve the holy partyland were political stalwarts such as Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram, all dyed-in-the-wool politicians who could pull in the votes. That’s hardly the case with the professional managers of wings of the government such as Khurshid, Ramesh and Ravi. (Only Azad fits the politician-in-technocrat’s clothing bill.) So never mind if these folks actually are offering to quit their posts. Or whether the elbows of The Hand are nudging at their ribs so as to make way for a few friends from the Samajwadi Party and a few frenemies from the Trinamool Congress.
Over the last two years, this government may not be the best example of a humming, professionally-run enterprise. But even then, with a non-politician (who has developed some political qualities) at its helm, India has, for some time now, learnt the crucial difference between government and ruling party, between ministers and partymen. We can’t afford to unlearn all this now.
Khurshid’s forte as a Congress Union minister has been as a professional who knows the portfolio he’s in charge of well. His loyalty is, frankly, his only credential as a partyman. So whether he wants to leave his government on his own, or whether The Hand is pushing him to quit, even as a euphemism for exile, Khurshid’s departure from his ministry at this juncture and entry (sic) into Congress reconstruction work will send out all the wrong signals. It will be as disastrous as ‘forcing’ Sachin Tendulkar into the political world of the Rajya Sabha, even though it’s actually to get him to retire from cricket gracefully.