Let’s start with the Salman Khurshid affair before we delve deeper. There’s a core question many forgot to ask while several overlooked the answer given by the Election Commission. How serious was his original lapse and did it merit censure?
I have no doubt his subsequent defiance was indefensible. But it’s just possible it was provoked by the Commission’s questionable censure. Not that that would forgive his thoughtless outburst leave aside Beni Prasad Verma’s. But, at least, it might explain it. Which is another reason for asking: What is it that Khurshid said and was it really so terrible?
Khurshid promised the voters of Farrukhabad a 9% sub-quota for OBC minorities. Now, before you jump to conclusions, remember reservations are a part of the Constitution. Other parties, like the BSP and SP, have also promised them. And reservations for minorities is not unconstitutional.
Incidentally, the Commission accepts this. What worried it were two separate concerns. First, “whether the respondent (Khurshid) has violated the model code of conduct by making a new promise”. Second, whether the promise was made by Khurshid “as a Congressman” or “as the Union minister for law and minority affairs”.
The Commission concluded this was a new promise because though both previous and the present Congress manifestos promise minority reservations, they do not specify the percentage. Khurshid did and that made this a new promise. As such, the Commission deemed it a breach of the model code.
Now reflect on what this means? It implies that party leaders cannot promise anything that is not specifically mentioned in their manifesto. In other words, they cannot go beyond it. So, if an issue arises after the manifesto is released, a politician cannot tackle it. If this is really what the model code stipulates, it needs to be promptly revised!
The Commission’s ruling also makes clear that it wasn’t the promise of minority reservations it objected to but the fixing of a percentage. If Khurshid hadn’t mentioned the percentage, the Commission would have had no problem.
On the second concern, the Commission concluded that Khurshid made the promise as a minister and not a Congressman because his private secretary and, subsequently, the district Congress committee president, while making arrangements for his Farrukhabad visit, referred to him as a minister.
No doubt they were wrong to do so but, given he’s a minister, it’s a mistake that’s easily made. More importantly, it’s not a big thing. It would only be if Khurshid himself had instructed that his ministerial privileges be exploited for his party’s gain. But even the Commission doesn’t suggest that. And I’m told Khurshid travelled in a private car.
Quite frankly, the Commission’s peculiar logic lead it to pronounce a strange censure. Salman Khurshid had done nothing wrong. If his staff had erred it was only marginally. The censure, however, was not on them but their boss.
I wanted to interview the Chief Election Commissioner about all this. He agreed but his colleagues stopped him. The interview would have started with the Khurshid issue but the deeper, broader subject would have been the model code. Is it being correctly interpreted by the Commission? Or is a strict, legalistic reading making the Commission appear mechanical and unthinking? And, most importantly, does it need to be revised?
These are critical issues and if the Commission wants to circumvent the threat of statutory status it must answer them. In fact, the sooner the better. Silence can only make matters worse.
Views expressed by the author are personal