Prof Higgins turns politician

  • Kumkum Chadha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Aug 17, 2009 00:49 IST
The Oxford educated and very eligible Salman Khurshid was playing Professor Higgins to swooning young girls, when he fell for journalist-turned-politician Louise Fernandes.

They dated for three years and stayed away from each other for six: she in the US and he in India. By the time both were ready to commit, the hurdles of an inter-communal marriage had already been crossed.

Thank God, Khurshid had proper clothes for the wedding, given that attire was his perennial problem.

When he first attended a formal dinner at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, he turned up in a polo neck. A shocked aide could do little given that Khurshid’s grandfather, Dr Zakir Hussain was the country’s President.

Next time around, when he was summoned to meet Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, he borrowed his father’s shirt: two sizes large with a ripped pocket.

His problem with politics: wearing kurtas.

Initially he went to Parliament in flannels and tweeds. Easy as minister but tough when it came to dealing with the Congress rank and file: “Angrez dikhta hai, (looks like an Englishman),” they would say. Khadi did not happen overnight. He started off buying stylish kurtas from the up market Fabindia store.

Khurshid’s image beats him down. When Congress leadership sent him to Uttar Pradesh to woo Muslims, he ended up alienating them: “An outsider,” says Shahid Manzoor, MLA, “who does not offer namaz (prayers) or fasts. Everything about him is western: education, marriage and mindset.”

Quite ironic considering Khurshid is in charge of Minority Affairs Ministry, which he instinctively wants to rename Ministry for Equal Opportunities.

If that happens during Khurshid’s tenure, fundamentalists would demand his head:

“Too secular,” rues Chaudhry. What is perhaps little known about Khurshid is that he was born on the Aligarh Muslim University campus and did his initial schooling at Jamia Millia Islamia before Delhi Public school and Oxford happened. In later years, he fought a legal battle against his expulsion as a member of DPS society.

As state Congress President in UP,  Khurshid’s track record was dismal. He spent more time in Delhi than he did in UP. Worse still, he operated through the urban elite rather than roughed it out in the interiors: “Political manipulation,” says Samajwadi Party’s Rajendra Chaudhry, “is his high point. He joined politics because it was a fashionable to do so.” The ‘in’ thing is what Chaudhry actually means.

Chaudhry is right because Khurshid’s political career was thanks to two calls from the Prime Minister’s Office: the first when Indira Gandhi was there and the second when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister.

Khurshid worked for her in the PMO; fought an election because Rajiv Gandhi wanted him to. He lost his first.

His first lunch at the Prime Minister’s house was in the 70’s: a reward for distributing election pamphlets.

And guess who fed him piping hot chapattis: Sonia Gandhi.


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