‘Pranab Mukherjee is our Rahul Dravid—the Wall. It’s comforting to have him in the party and in the government’
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SALMAN KHURSHID: There are two important things someone in my position should be saying to you. One, that our government is battered and badgered by people who think we are doing very badly. On our third anniversary of coming to power (in May), we will give you material that is staggering about the performance of our government. There is no paralysis. In fact, there is a lot of energy in what the government is doing. I admit things have gone wrong but not things we have deliberately ruined. We take 100 per cent responsibility for everything. Involuntarily, and beyond our control, some things have gone wrong—they have to be put right and they are being put right.
We need to have an institutional dialogue with all important institutions in our country. The media is one such institution. I have to have a dialogue with the judiciary. Similarly, we must have a dialogue with the Opposition. We are a coalition government of many parties, and we must reach out to every party. Dialogue is not a symptom of weakness or of confusion, dialogue is not a symptom of surrender. You should be able to dialogue with anybody, even with the forces of extreme nature. I am not calling them extremists, Maoists, or communalists, etc. The moment you label somebody something, your dialogue collapses.
As Minister of Minority Affairs and Law, there are specific areas of concern. Minority Affairs is a minor ministry with a major task. The ministry's job is of course for the minorities, but also for the majority of our country. We have to be able to initiate a dialogue between the minority and majority. And I say with great sadness that the assumed champions of the minorities today, in the name of welfare of the minorities, are actually hurting that dialogue.
Maneesh Chhibber: Till a few years ago, you were the liberal face of the Congress but during the UP elections, we saw Salman Khurshid talking about minority quota etc. Did electoral politics get to you?
SALMAN KHURSHID: Was that my position or was that the position of my government? Salman Khurshid can't give four-and-a-half per cent to anybody, the Cabinet did. Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra—one a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, one a former Chief Justice of India—recommended four-and-a-half per cent. I wish somebody had said Salman, Mishra and Sachar are wrong. Sachar talked of 10 per cent, Ranganath Mishra of 15 per cent, Mulayam Singh Yadav was talking of 18 per cent minority quota. And four-and-a-half per cent is for the minorities, not for Muslims alone. What is four-and-half per cent today? Will it give people the right to recruitment, the right to admission in universities? If you want to shoot the messenger, you will end up shooting the message. I was only the messenger, a messenger of social justice. For five years, my government and my party were criticised for not implementing this quota. My announcement was my government's decision. Should I have kept my government's decision under wraps?
Swaraj Thapa: Subsequently, you apologised to the Election Commission for it.
SALMAN KHURSHID: The word apology may not be there but I won't argue. Why did nobody question Mayawati when she said in Parliament that reservations in promotions have been stopped by the court and Parliament must ensure that the court's decision is overturned? She questioned the decision of the Supreme Court. I was only endorsing a decision of the Supreme Court.
Rakesh Sinha: You underlined the need for dialogue, but we don't see that degree of engagement between the government and the Opposition?
SALMAN KHURSHID: I concede that the level of dialogue that I aspire to is missing. Maybe our parliamentary structure does not encourage or allow for the kind of dialogue that is necessary in the complex situations of today, but we want dialogue. We have had dialogue, we need more.
Vandita Mishra: As a Congressman and as Law Minister, what is your reaction to the media regulation bill sought to be moved by your party MP, Meenakshi Natarajan?
SALMAN KHURSHID: My view is the same as the one articulated by Ambika Soni. It is not the position of everybody in the government, but we have to go along with her. Her position is that we should go an extra mile in promoting self-regulation in media. We should not impose regulation. There is an exception here—reporting court proceedings. That is a matter for the judiciary. We don't think (regulation) is going to be useful. But we have the concept of private members bills to highlight their concerns in Parliament which encourages engagement and debate. To say Meenakshi Natarajan doesn't have the right to do this is a bit unfair. Right now, it is only a trigger for a debate, not a trigger for a decision. But I am surprised when the media discourages open debate. For the media to say that she has no right to say this surprises me—I don't want to use the word hypocrisy. Nobody has ever said paid media is wrong. People have only said that paid media during elections is wrong. Strange, that there are two Indias: one during elections, the other outside elections.
Vandita Mishra: This bill has extremely draconian provisions by a Congress MP who is considered to be close to the heir apparent. Is that not cause for worry?
SALMAN KHURSHID: No. I have never known a private bill to come in on a Friday afternoon having shaken up this country. Those bills all become part of a feed for future legislation.
Dilip Bobb: You said there is no policy paralysis, you are going full steam ahead with all your programmes and reforms. But all your major programmes are being stymied by your own allies.
SALMAN KHURSHID: I didn't say we are going ahead with reforms. Some reforms are possible without legislation, others are only possible with legislation. With the legislation-based reforms, the time line has been stretched, undoubtedly. But to say that means we are paralytic, is not fair. A lot of things are happening. Figures for tourism, reduced violence, riots, for social NREGA, jobs, skills development, school enrollment are good. If somebody says these happen without the government, then I have no answer. There could be much more happening. We have not met the aspired timeline on some legislation. But has this brought India to a grinding halt. Is the India story over? I am not prepared to accept it. This year, we are the second fastest growing economy of the world after China.
Coomi Kapoor: Why didn't you manage to get the minority vote in UP or in Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections?
SALMAN KHURSHID: We won in Latur and many other places which have huge chunks of Muslims. We didn't win Mumbai. We have not won Delhi. But we lost Delhi two years before Sheila Dikshit won for the third time. The largest vote we got in UP was the minority vote. We have got more minority votes than we have got other votes because there are more minority votes to give in UP—19 per cent. If you ask, did you get enough to win, the answer is no. But if you ask, how did you do compared to last time—we got two per cent more. Compared to the last parliamentary elections, we have got four per cent less. People say polarisation took place. Then why did BJP get fewer votes? There is no comfort in these figures. We have to cross the 20 per cent barrier in UP if we are to become relevant and for that we have to work very hard.
SHRUTI SRIVASTAVA: Do you think the proposed retrospective amendment in the Finance Bill has the potential to drive away foreign investors?
SALMAN KHURSHID: I have seen this year's figures and they are very encouraging on Foreign Direct Investment. There are some serious concerns that the Finance Minister has on trying to make India a tax haven. He believes that all other countries which also invite investment, have looked through provisions that India unfortunately did not have. Maybe in our over-enthusiasm to get investment, we overlooked such provisions. We are looking at options, so let's see.
Amitabh Sinha: What is your personal analysis of the UP election results?
SALMAN KHURSHID: The results shattered me because we thought we could make a breakthrough. We had everything going that you need in an election to win it. What happened? Many of the reasons media writes about are not the reasons. I say that with confidence. I have to fight an election in two years time so it would be stupid of me if I didn't open my eyes and ears to the reasons. I don't think the Samajwadi Party knows why it won. If the winner doesn't know why it has won, the losers are highly unlikely to know why they have lost.
Muzamil Jaleel: Do you think the way the government dealt with the General V K Singh affair was right?
SALMAN KHURSHID: On the Gen VK Singh issue, I feel very sad. You ask me could the government have done a better job, I ask, could the General have done a better job? He is a good General, a respected General, a very popular General. Sometimes in life, you just have a hard case and no matter what you do, you can't get it right. It is a very sad episode and I hope and pray we have seen the end of it. The army, the Generals, in the popular perception are the most respected. That folklore of our country must remain intact.
Muzamil Jaleel: The Army has been very vocal about AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). More and more army officers are becoming vocal on issues which should have been within the domain of the political administration.
SALMAN KHURSHID: The traditional attitude towards the military is changing in the country. The world over, the military is not what it used to be 30 years ago. They also want to ask questions. They also want to participate in the debate.
Muzamil Jaleel: This is the first time that the government's decision to select the new chief of the army is being questioned on communal terms.
SALMAN KHURSHID: There are a lot of things that have happened for the first time. I heard that the Law Minister was reprimanded for the first time (by Election Commission). So, you live with it. For the sake of dialogue, for the sake of the country, you don't reply to some reprimands.
D K Singh: Do you think some kind of Kamaraj plan can revitalise Congress?
SALMAN KHURSHID: I don't think we should talk about something that was specific to a particular moment in history. Our leaders will look at what is the need of the hour.
D K Singh: Your senior colleague Saifuddin Soz says Rahul Gandhi should play a larger role in the party.
SALMAN KHURSHID: That's a common feeling among Congress leaders. But ultimately we have to wait for him to take a call.
Swaraj Thapa: With the presidential elections coming up, do you think it's time for changes in Congress?
SALMAN KHURSHID: There is no specific plan or intent that I know of. My common sense tells me that every few years you need to do some introspection and take some steps that would address the challenges of the future.
Swaraj Thapa: Is Mr Pranab Mukherjee a candidate for
SALMAN KHURSHID: He is one of our most experienced people. He is our Rahul Dravid—the Wall. On every issue, in every challenge, he stands solid for the party and for the government. We owe a lot to him. And he is greatly respected on both sides of the divide in Parliament. So it's comforting to have him in the party and in the government.
Dilip Bobb: On Bofors and the handling of it, don't you think that there are a lot of unanswered questions?
SALMAN KHURSHID: Of course there are. There are a lot of questions on Partition too. What are scholars for? Let them write books. But when books get written on World War II or on the Holocaust, the British Parliament and German Parliament don't come to a standstill.
Muzamil Jaleel: Bofors is an efficient gun, there was never any question on that.
SALMAN KHURSHID: When was the first time anybody admitted that Bofors was a good gun? During the Kargil conflict—10 years after the controversy erupted. For ten years that knowledge was kept from the country because if you say it's a good gun, but it's being handled by bad people, it doesn't make a story. There is no point trying to recreate a story that is gone and over and finished and dead. Courts in three countries have examined the allegations and have said there is nothing in it. Do we trust the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, the Malaysian court? The Argentinian court?
Rakesh Sinha: Did Kaushik Basu's statement on the lack of economic reforms till 2014 give the government the jitters?
SALMAN KHURSHID: I don't think so. His statement was projected with a wrong nuance. He just stated the fact. And that fact was suggested as the government's admission of defeat, the government's intention of not doing anything. That was not it. India didn't come to a halt because for 40 years we couldn't pass Lokpal Bill. So legislation does run into trouble when you don't have stakeholders consensus.
Transcribed by Shalini Narayan
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