This week,as curtains came down on Law Minister Salman Khurshids standoff with the Election Commission,a senior Congress leader sought to sum up the controversy: Elections in Uttar Pradesh are like a series of nukkad nataks (street plays) and Khurshid has been a successful playwright.
Khurshid,who had defied an EC censure for his remarks about a sub-quota for backward Muslims,eventually sent a letter of regret to the Chief Election Commissioner.
His Congress colleagues are far from impressed by his effort to cast himself in the mould of a minority leader. The Uttar Pradesh Congress president in 1999-2000 and 2005-08,he had so far been seen as a liberal who faced comments such as Manga tha Mussalman,mil gaya Salman.
Here was a leader who would not mind inviting Shashi Tharoor over to his home to offer him single malt whisky amid a raging controversy surrounding the then Union minister of state for external affairs.
Following the Allahabad High Courts ruling in the Ayodhya title suits in October 2010,Khurshid,then minister for minority affairs,had dismissed suggestions that the judgment was based on faith rather than evidence and said it had offered a more persuasive platform for dialogue than ever.
Maternal grandson of former President Zakir Hussain,son of former Union minister Khurshid Alam Khan,and educated at Oxford,Khurshid,59,is no novice in politics. He was an OSD in the Prime Ministers Office during Indira Gandhis tenure,then deputy minister for commerce and MoS for external affairs in the Narasimha Rao regime.
In 1997,when Sharad Pawar and the late Rajesh Pilot had taken on Sitaram Kesri in the election to the Congress presidents post,Khurshid had thrown his weight behind Pilot.
Out in the cold for some time after 1996,he got back into the thick of things after Sonia Gandhi took over the reins. He was involved in making and implementing the partys election strategies in 1999 and 2004,and rose to become AICC general secretary. All those years,he showed no penchant for minority politics.
A good debater since his days at Delhi Public School,Mathura Road,Khurshid often took independent stands within the party. When he was UPCC chief,he never went along with the AICCs then UP-affairs-in-charge,Satyavrat Chaturvedi,who would often take his grouse against him to the high command. Khurshid has been known for kicking off debates also in the government,be it with a remark about the adverse impact of keeping businessmen behind bars on investment climate or one about the Right to Information Act on governance.
A senior advocate in the Supreme Court,Khurshid knows how not to transgress legal boundaries. Therefore,his colleagues have various interpretations about why he chose to defy the Election Commission. One view is that he was only trying to help the party in wooing the crucial Muslim votebank in Uttar Pradesh,even at the cost of his liberal image. Another is that it does not hurt Khurshid to project himself as a Muslim community leader,especially when the Congress is looking at the possibility of installing a chief minister with the SPs help.
Incidentally,Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has been a regular at Khurshids mango parties,an annual event.