The loneliness of Salman Khurshid

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Out of the blue, a campaign has picked up speed to displace the minister of minority affairs because he may be too secular. Vijay Simha reports

Typecast Many colleagues but few friends: Khurshid with Prithviraj Chavan, Mukul Wasnik, Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot during a trip to the Ajmer Dargah in Rajasthan
Photo: Deepak Sharma

ONE OF the more liberal minds in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Minister of State (Independent charge) for Corporate Affairs and Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid, is in a state of worry these days. Baffling him is a turn of events he barely anticipated: a campaign against him for ‘betraying Muslims’ has reached the Prime Minister, and Khurshid is worried this might cost him half his job and set the cause of progressive Muslims back.

So upset is Khurshid that on June 19, he is believed to have told the Prime Minister’s Office he could not tolerate the campaign anymore and that the people behind it must be restrained. “I was startled. All kinds of things have been said. How did this happen?” Khurshid asks.

The issue is this: the Ministry of Minority Affairs is seen as a high profile perch from where political clout can be gained among the minorities, principally the Muslims. Therefore, the minister for minority affairs is a key entry in the wish list of several Muslim politicians. Khurshid is an author, media contributor, educationist, sports lover, and a deep friend of the canines. He is not known to have said or done anything regressive in public life, especially on Muslims. In short, Khurshid is seen as too secular.

Among those apparently desiring to be India’s minority affairs minister is K Rahman Khan, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Khan is believed to be the force behind the campaign against Khurshid though the two were friends once. Khan is a businessman-politician from Karnataka who has spent long years in electoral and Muslim politics. He, say people in the know, is keen to move from a constitutional post with no powers to an executive post with power.

“Khurshid and I meet on and off, as we are friends. But I have never discussed minority issues with him. I have nothing to do with it (the anti-Khurshid campaign),” says Khan. But the gloves are off for a while now

The specific issue on which Khurshid is being criticised is the Wakf (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which the Lok Sabha passed on May 7. The Bill seeks to make Wakf properties more secure so they are not easy targets of poachers. For that, the Bill says Wakf properties must be registered. In India, where land ownership is rarely transparent, this is a daunting task. Wakf properties in many places are virtually hand-me-downs with no paper records of ownership.

A fear is being whipped up that Khurshid would, somehow, lose the Babri Masjid case

The case being built up against Khurshid is that the Babri Masjid, which was demolished by rightwing supporters on December 6, 1992, was not registered. Therefore, Khurshid’s Wakf Amendment Bill would mean that Muslims cannot prove the Masjid existed. This, in turn, would hand over the Babri Masjid legal case to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other fundamentalist rightwing groups.

This is a tricky campaign to run. If it works, it could drive the Muslim community into rage, which might then be targeted at the person considered responsible: Khurshid. This is Khurshid’s main worry: a false case gaining mileage by exaggeration and destroying secular, progressive thought in the Muslim community. “The core issue is Section 87 of the Bill, which is on registration. If Wakf properties are not registered, we cannot fight cases as Wakf. Litigation will be superficial and fought on an individual basis. The chances of losing Wakf property are high then,” says Khurshid.

“Also, Babri Masjid is registered as Wakf property. When we said so, a smart alec said the court did not accept the registration. If that were so, it would have prevented Wakf from coming to court all these years.”

Better times Khurshid (L) and his critic Rahman Khan (R) with Vice-President Ansari

ALL THIS reached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when a group of Rajya Sabha members and a group of Muslim clerics met him separately and complained that the Wakf Bill was a betrayal of Muslims. The campaign said Khurshid and, by extension, the Congress had deliberately passed the Bill on a Friday when most Muslims would be praying. “It was called a betrayal of Muslims by the Congress party. That it was a Friday and that we pushed through something harmful for Muslims while they would be praying. In order to say something else, an exaggerated charge was being laid,” says Khurshid.

The attack on Khurshid is coming largely from the Rajya Sabha because the Wakf Bill has to be passed by them before it becomes law. Rahman Khan is Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. “As a person of a minority community, I give my opinion when it is sought. There is definitely scope for improvement in the functioning of the Minority Affairs Ministry. It was established for the development of minorities, but there is general discontentment that government schemes are not reaching the beneficiaries. There is a need for close monitoring of the ministry.”

Khurshid has an opposite view. “Why is this being called a betrayal of Muslims? Is someone trying to create an issue where there is none? They are feeling frustrated that the government is doing a great job. So, they say let us create a distraction and a controversy. There is more than meets the eye here. You come to me if you differ and explain why Section 87 should be taken back. The positive work is hurting someone who doesn’t want minorities to acknowledge the work. It is sad that this is weighing heavily on the heart of someone.”

Another issue on which the PM has to take a side on.

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