After his return from London where he was “feted and felicitated” by erstwhile masters of pre-independent India’s destiny, union law minister Salman Khurshid justifiably found it difficult to discard the colonial hangover that bordered on delusions of self-grandeur. And his press conference to counter allegations of forgery and deceit by the trust run by him and his wife Louise Khurshid on Sunday proved to be his journey’s end.
In fact, just before he undertook his foreign tour, Khurshid had publicly vowed to lay down his life for his party president Sonia Gandhi while defending her son-in-law Robert Vadra. When he defended himself in the press conference showing uncharacteristic aggression, he was only consistent in his conduct.
However, if adversity brings the best out of man, Khurshid’s antics and semantics at the press meet sullied his image more than ever. Though he marshalled his arguments and picked up selective facts like a skilled lawyer capable of speaking in the same idioms and terminology prevalent in courts of London, he lost out badly in India on many counts.
First, he spoke a language which was incomprehensible to most people of India. He seemed totally engrossed in the technicality of the case. In the process, he seemed to have forgotten the fact that he has been fighting a political battle which is neither won nor lost on the basis of its tenability in the court of law. In fact, if one looks at the case as pointed out by social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal and the TV Today group, there is incontrovertible evidence to prove that forged documents were presented and fictitious entries were made in the list of beneficiaries to procure the government funds for the trust.
Strangely enough, he admitted that the substantial part of the allegation levelled against him had a ring of truth around it. He also acknowledged the fact that the affidavit by the UP government official submitted to the union social welfare ministry to procure funds could have been forged. “We have requested the UP government to probe the matter,” he said by way of his defence. He was not able to contradict the allegation that there might be certain “fictitious entries” in the list of beneficiaries who were supposed to be given implements to make up for their handicap in 17 camps organised by the trust.
By all accounts, the facts that Khurshid could not contradict were strong enough to stir the conscience of any leader who believes in upholding a certain level of morality in public life. On the contrary, Khurshid’s display of self-righteous indignation and his burst of anger exhibited an intolerant streak and a tendency which is averse to being held accountable for wrongdoing. At some points he resorted to intimidation by making claims that he would turn India Today into India Yesterday through legal process. Perhaps this is the first time in history of India that a law minister has openly threatened a media group in an open press conference.
There is no doubt that Khurshid has lost out badly as a politician. Given his trained skills as lawyer well-conversant with the legalese and idioms comprehensible to his fraternity, Khurshid is a better judge to understand the legal implication of the case. But he emerged badly bruised in public image on his Sunday press conference. It would have been apt if he had taken a lesson or two from his predecessors in politics to wriggle out of the situation.
He is old enough to be aware of the controversy surrounding the allocation of land to Bhoodan movement by the Dahia trust headed by former prime minister VP Singh. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as PM, when VP’s popularity as finance minister was at its peak, a Hindi magazine published a story accusing him of misrepresenting facts to protect the excess land. VP never threatened the publication, instead he himself asked for a probe to clear the air. Though the allegations were untenable right from the beginning, he maintained his calm and reasserted his position to uphold the principle of accountability. Incidentally, the reporter who filed the story is now a cabinet colleague of Khurshid.
Similarly, when LK Advani was implicated in what is known as the Jain hawala scam along with several top leaders, it prima facie appeared to be a politically motivated case. Yet Advani resigned from the Lok Sabha and vowed not to contest the election until cleared. Former prime minister Chandrashekhar gave up his Bhondsi Ashram land to the Haryana government once he was told that the ownership of the land was in dispute.
It would be naïve to believe that all these leaders were guided by Gandhian ethics and morality in politics. Far from it, their abiding faith in political pragmatism taught them to put up (even if) pretence of moral values in public life where perception matters more than reality. This elementary political lesson seems to have been lost on Khurshid.