By Amba Charan Vashishth
While campaigning for his wife in the UP Assembly elections Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid promised a 9 per cent quota of reservation to Muslims. He knew what he was doing and for what purpose. Despite the prying eye of the Election Commission (EC) he succeeded in making his appeal with a communal tone reach the voters. The veteran lawyer knew that worst come worst he could, at best, face an EC indictment which, in effect, is virtually not more than a pampering rap. And this happened.
On February 10, 2011 EC came to the “inescapable conclusion” that Khurshid “made a new promise to a distinct targeted group of the electorate among the minorities…..as a Union Minister for Law and Minorities Affairs….(and) violated the Model Code of Conduct.” The EC gave a lie to the Khushid’s claim that his remarks were only a reiteration of Congress’s manifestos made in his personal capacity as leader of the party and not as the Union Minister. The Commission said, “he (Khurshid) failed to show to the Commission any manifesto of his party where the party has made any announcement to the effect…..” It also rejected his contention that the said remarks were made in his (Khurshid’s) personal capacity. The argument, EC held, was “quite ingenious, does not hold water in view of the factual position.” Yet, for the Union Minister the guilt did not appear to be something to feel ashamed of but an act of chivalry to feel proud of. The very next day the lawmaker law minister was again at his best in breaking the law of ethics when he claimed that the Batla House encounter pictures had jerked tears out of Sonia Gandhi’s eyes. But this time to nail Khurshid’s lie was not the EC or the Opposition but his own Congress Party.
As the EC on February 11 approached the President for action against a defiant Khurshid, the latter has tried to paint himself a martyr saying I will “stick to stand even if they hang me”. The President has sent EC’s communication to the Prime Minister. Khurshid is intelligent enough to know that for fear of losing minority Muslim votes Congress can do nothing. It cannot dare raise even a finger at him, not to speak of any action.
Congress is adopting a dubious policy. It feigns to be showing full respect to the EC and, at the same time, keeping mum on Khurshid’s misdemeanour. Prime Minister is maintaining a stoic silence, for obvious political reasons.
The Model Code of Conduct may not have the force of a law passed by the Parliament yet it is a virtual law commanding universal, unanimous recognition by all—the Members of the Parliament and State legislatures, the political parties, and, above all, the people. Everyone considers it sacrosanct and makes a complaint to the EC whenever the Code is violated. Moreover, the EC is as much an institution of the Constitution as is the Supreme Court (SC). Therefore, EC verdict in the limited domain of elections is as much sanctimonious and final (unless challenged in the SC) as is that of the SC.
The Khurshid defiance has raised a few questions. If the Code has no moral or legal sanctity; if EC verdict on complaints is of no consequence and is to be treated with contempt; if it has not to be respected but violated at the whims of politicians, it gets reduced to just a piece of paper worthy of a dustbin. Then why should people at all make complaints to EC, it should entertain and sit in judgement over these violations? Why should the people, government and the EC waste their time and energy in such a useless exercise of no consequence? If the EC verdict is to be accepted not as a legal rap with a respectful bow but to be taken as an electoral bouquet with a smile, then what is the fun of having the Code at all? A law, a rule, a code, a convention, a precedent that commands no respect is just a corpse deserving an instant burial.
Union Minister Khurshid – and for that matter, the Congress – wanted to direct an appeal to minority votes on the basis of religion. They have done and succeeded in realising their objective defying the Code and despite the EC verdict. In reality EC has failed where Khurshid has succeeded.
Further, Khurshid is also guilty of misleading the EC by telling a lie by claiming that he only reiterated what had been provided in earlier Congress manifestoes and that what he said was “in his personal capacity”. Is telling a lie no crime for a Union Minister in the world’s largest democracy? US President Richard Nixon had won with a landslide victory. But in the world’s oldest democracy he had to go because he lied to the nation in the infamous Watergate scandal.
That differentiates the world’s oldest and the biggest and the ‘greatest’ democracy, that is India! Here we have a minister above the law of the land.