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'Khurshid cared a damn about the Election Commission'

February 13, 2012 10:36 IST
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Former Supreme Court judge Justice Santhosh Hegde outlines the options before the Election Commission, the Congress party, the government, and Salman Khurshid in an exclusive conversation with Vicky Nanjappa.

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid landed in a row with the Election Commission after he announced a 9 per cent sub quota for the minorities in state government jobs during an election rally in Uttar Pradesh last week; that is, if the Congress won the state assembly election.

Deeming Khurshid's promise as a violation of its Model Code of Conduct, the Election Commission of India wrote to the President on Saturday, seeking Rashtrapati Bhavan's intervention in the matter.

Justice Santhosh Hegde tells's Vicky Nanjappa what could happen:

I feel sacking Salman Khurshid from the Union Cabinet is too much of a punishment, considering it is a first time offence. A proper reprimand should be what both the government and the Election Commission should be looking at now.

However, if the law minister decides to challenge an order of the Election Commission again or does not follow its Model Code of Conduct, then it would be suitable to act against him by disqualifying him.

This is something the Election Commission could recommend. Ultimately, it is in the hands of the government about what action needs to be taken. There is a need for a precedent to be set and hence, it is important that strong words come from the government.

It is not as though Khurshid was not aware of the consequences or the law and the legalities attached when he made such a statement. It appears he cared a damn about the Election Commission and the Model Code of Conduct.

Khurshid has tried to get away by saying that this is government policy and not an announcement per se. It is not as though he did not know what was right and what was wrong during an election campaign. Ultimately, this is just juggling words and the Congress has done it very smartly.

In my view, what Khurshid said is surely a violation of the Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct. One cannot announce new projects during the course of an election and I feel the Election Commission is doing the right thing by taking up this matter seriously.

But I find the hands of the Election Commission are tied. They have pointed out a certain violation. However, there is not much they can do. Hence, the Commission has written to the President who again has nothing much to do on this issue.

At the end of the day, it is Khurshid's party which has a bigger role to play. The Congress party is the one who should be acting on the issue.

Will the Congress act is another issue altogether. The party appears to be desperate in Uttar Pradesh. They can go to any extent to ensure that Rahul Gandhi's campaign does not go to waste, and hence all this circus.

Khurshid is not that naive that he did not understand the repurcussions of his statement. He was a very good advocate and is a decent man. Hence, I feel such statements are engineered. I was surprised when I saw a man like Khurshid making such a statement.

What surprised me more is that he chose to confront the Election Commission which is a Constitutional body. He holds a very high office. According to me, people in high offices must show character instead of resorting to such things.

Challenging an authority like the Election Commission is uncalled for. In my view, Khurshid ought to have settled this diplomatically instead of showing defiance.

I do not think the Congress will sack Khurshid. The party is aware that there is not much the Election Commission or the President can do. The ball is very much in its court. However, it would be good for the system if the Congress party could show some character, set a precedent and ensure that such things do not occur in the future.

The bigger issue is whether it is too late. The Congress has conveyed to the 19 per cent Muslim population in UP what it plans to do if it comes to power. This was the Congress's game plan.

The existing law provides for a reprimand as it is a first time offence, but I personally feel that stronger laws ought to put in place so that politicians do not get away with statements which are aimed at pulling in votes.

The Election Commission should have written first to the government instead of the President as the real power lies with the government.

Had it done so, the government would have been under much greater pressure to act.

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