As newly appointed Union law minister, who is also in charge of minority affairs, Salman Khurshid laments that the surging scope and influence of private sector is checking the benefits of reservation reaching the Dalits and the lower strata of society. He reiterates the government’s commitment to work for the poor, but points out that court directions have ensured that reservations are carried out not on economic basis but as a solution to backwardness. In a television talkshow ‘Sachchi Baat’, he opens up his mind. Khurshid started his career as an officer on special duty in the Prime Minister’s office in the 1980s when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. He is the son of former Union minister Khurshid Alam Khan and maternal grandson of Dr Zakir Hussain, who was the third President of India. Excerpts:
PC: You are also the minority affairs minister.
SK: That portfolio also has its own importance.
PC: That is important; hence I will discuss that portfolio more.
PC: You have become the law minister now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believes in stability; hence he doesn’t shuffle positions much. But you were earlier in corporate affairs with additional charge of minority, then water related ministries—and now law. What is he searching for in you with so many changes? SK: Whether he is searching for in me...(am not sure). Or (maybe) he is seeing where people should be appointed to keep the right balance of the team and who is right for the position and when. What is our work in the cabinet or the council of ministers? When the team leader decides that a particular person should be appointed at a particular post, he should prove his prowess in that area where he has been appointed. That is what we do.
PC: Sometimes you are a forward player, then backward, defence. Is it a football team?
SK: See, in politics, there is a game theory. It’s also there in economics. You are an economist, and hence (you) would know. PC: Yes…SK: The aim of the game theory is to see how, with the many players that you have got, you arrange and rearrange them to meet your goal. PC: Now Salman Khurshid has been rearranged and brought forward. What task you have been given as law minister, because (M Veerappa) Moily was also there earlier. He was also working well.SK: See, Moily saab did good work and took many steps, and it is my duty to take them forward. I think it is my responsibility to do so. But it might be so that he was needed at some other place too; that is why he was sent there.
PC: Means, where you were earlier, he was sent there.
SK: Why not, why not?
PC: Then why were you displaced from there?
SK: it is possible that then I was doing good work there, now somebody better than me is needed for that post, or somebody else would be suitable for that post now. Now, we are at a stage where we have to pass legislation in Parliament….
PC: You are not doing ‘sachchi baat’. You are saying a person better than you went to corporate affairs minister, a person better than him came to law ministry.
SK: No, I didn’t say that. I can agree that a person walking on his path has come to this post now, and since I have come on Sachchi Baat, I will do ‘sachchi baat’ only, I promise you.
PC: ‘Sachchi baat’ is that you agreed that a better person then you went to the corporate ministry.
PC: And a person better than him came to the law ministry.
SK: No, I didn’t say that. PC:
So are you not as good as him?
SK: What is said was the person who was considered appropriate here, was brought in.
PC: ‘ Sachchi Baat’ is that the government was being attacked, Moily could not save the day, hence Khurshid saab was brought in to fulfil the task.
SK: See, that is not the case, it is not a question of government-bashing. It is true that we were faced with difficult situations and it was our responsibility to face them. And how to we face those challenges, what plan we should me, on what fronts should we act and on what places should be go back. These decisions have to be taken in the interest of what is right, every leader has to takes them. Our leadership decides who should be placed where and how decisions have to be implemented.
PC: What is the law minister’s job? To save the government from all the bashing that it has been facing in recent times?
SK: No, see there is no question of government-bashing.
PC: Every day, there are orders against you. Judiciary is not effective, not working.
SK: That is not the case. You see, very complicated social and political conditions have formed now in this country. Because we are a growing economy and emerging economy—as the whole world agrees. There are challenges before an emerging economy, institutional challenges, administrative challenges and policy challenges. Sometime there are conflicts, when they should be patiently solved by compromise, in the interest of stability; like that there are many challenges. And, to face these challenges…
PC: You are speaking like political Aristotle….
SK: No, no. Like, it is our duty that we should face them, in the same way the court also is within its right. The court should support us in facing these conditions. That means they should be support of Parliament and the executive, and where they think that things are not happening right according to the Constitution….
PC: Hence you agree what the courts and the judiciary have been doing, executive is being criticised for its non-performance. Hence, as law minister, do you think their interference as judicial activism is right or wrong? Or did the government did not get time to put forward its point?
SK: I can only go till the point where court has drawn its own borders. Because our administration, the authority of court is final, we agree that Parliament is supreme, but how and to what extent Parliament is supreme, who will decide? The court does. And we have to accept the court’s decision, not because we don’t have any other option, but because we agree that their decision is very important for us. It may be possible, that there might be a difference between their decision and our thought. That happens, many times in history too, everywhere. If such a thing happens, then we have to work extra hard to explain the court, and gradually the court also changes its thought, and…
PC: I am asking the law minister of this country. The kind of situation prevalent in the country today, people are feeling that judiciary interference is good because the government has stopped doing its job.
SK: What are you blaming judiciary for this?
PC: I am not blaming them; I am supporting them.
SK: Well, you are supporting them. But why do you say for judiciary, why, didn’t the Election Commission do the same, or even the other regulators whom we made? We ourselves made, we ourselves accepted this administration and respected it, and that is why we respect the court, we respect the judiciary. We agree that many things, which we don’t understand, and in the political scope, we cannot them correct then in line with the Constitution, that the court will show us.
PC: The prime minister made a statement that judiciary should not interfere much in the powers of the executive, they should know their limits. SK: Of course, the…PC: In what context did he say this?
SK: I will tell you. The message of the prime minister, the same decision has been given by the Supreme Court yesterday; the same thing is said by the Supreme Court. Every decision of the Supreme Court, time and again, reiterates this point, that we all have our limitations. You also have limitations, we also have limitations. But what is your limitation, we have a right of saying that ever day because you take your decisions according to those limits. If some comes before us with those decisions, then we have to investigate them…
PC: You are very selective, they made appointment on black money, gave a direction to you, but you say it is out of your limits, you have no right of taking this decision. SK: Listen. That is not the case. If you carefully read the decision on black money, in that decision also the court has reiterated the fact that we all have our limitations.
PC: But after that also they passed the orders. This is the chairman, this is the vice-chairman, the rest of your committee is agreed to by us.
SK: Please listen. They have passed an order in connection with which we have filed an application in the court. In that application, we have tried to explain that taking this order in mind, where would we have difficulty in running the administration…
PC: Why, has the judiciary exceeded their powers?
SK: No, this is a dialogue. See, you are speaking to me, can anybody say that you have asked too much, or that I have replied too much. But when you and I have a dialogue, this dialogue will lead to a result. In a dialogue, I cannot write a script beforehand and give it to you. You know what are your powers and boundaries, I know my scope of responsibilities, and we will get to a result through this dialogue…
PC: Hence, it seems you would take forward the dialogue which had broken down. SK: No, no, no. See, dialogue is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes more, sometimes less but in every wing of the government, there are different mediums of dialogue and that is continuing. I think it as dialogue of democracy.
PC: In the past six months, you have lost many cases, that means you had a weak case. Right from CVC to 2G, in every case you have been on the back foot. You had no case.
SK: There can be different analysis on whether the case was not right, whether its analysis was not correct the, whether its presentation and wording was not right.
PC: In that background I am asking whether you defence was not right, facts could not be presented properly, you could not convince the judiciary.
SK: Different people can give different aspects of this issue, but, the bottom line is when the government goes before the court, it goes with the expectation and hope that if they present their case properly then they will get relief; if there is a need for it, then we will get it. If we don’t get relief, then there is sadness. Along with sadness, there is a stoppage in what you want to do. That is why, to convince the court, to keep the court with us, to persuade the court that is real lawyering.
PC: Salman bhai, tell me one thing, talking about your predecessor, is it the law ministers job, if some other ministry does a wrong thing, if you lose, the blame on the law ministers that it is his weakness. Is this theory right?
SK: See, this is not a question of theory.
PC: Whose is the responsibility? The law ministry or the ministry concerned?
SK: Please see that this is a collective responsibility. In a government, you cannot single out a minister and say that he has done such and such a thing. That does not happen. All decisions are collective. If we take some decisions, going away from collective decision, then that is our responsibility, our personal responsibility. And in everyday’s time, you might be doing many works which, your personal responsibility…
PC: Like you said, it is collective decision but the law minister is held responsible, in the case of the CVC, the law minister does not appoint him. Somebody else appoints the CVC, if the law minister is not able to defend him, does that mean that the law minister is responsible?
SK: No, nobody is responsible, the whole government is responsible. Moilyji, said thing in general terms. Somebody expects that one man should be the strong one that does not happen. The decisions of government are collective. And for that collective decision to be good, everybody gets the credit. But if it is bad…
PC: You are diverting, if there is a wrong decision in the finance ministry, and they consult the law minister to defend it in report, the decision is theirs…
SK: There are two points, their decision, which we have vetted, and then we also have a responsibility. Even if we have not vetted the decision, but the responsibility of defending is with us. Then does a very good lawyer does take only good cases, only strong cases, what is the difference between a very good and a small-time lawyer, a good lawyer can also make a bad case good.
PC: In between Moily and you, it is evident who was the better lawyer. The government has taken a brief from lawyer, given it to Salman.
SK: He got one more good responsibility.
PC: I want to confirm this from you: if other ministries have taken wrong decisions without being vetted by law ministry, is the responsibility of defending them with the law ministry?
SK: Of course, it is our responsibility. But how will we shoulder that responsibility, how much we will defend, in what words will be defend—that decision also we would have to take as a lawyer. When a lawyer stands in court, for example if somebody is accused of murder, and if he cannot convince the court that he has not committed murder, then he gives a different argument, which is that, it is true that the murder has happened, but it has happened in certain conditions hence the accused should not get a quantum of punishment...
PC: One thing happened. That you minister said that I don’t like the law officer of the government, I will appoint a private lawyer, he did not have faith in the law ministry.
SK: No, no, no. That is not the thing. When there are many complicated cases, if one man has 10 subjects with him, and if on any special item if there is a subject, then it is given to a special lawyer to handle. For example, if four people are accused of one crime, one lawyer getting all four cases…
PC: You appointed other people without asking the SG?
SK: No, no, no, that is not the case, it has happened earlier too, I think that Gopal Subramaniam himself, when he was not SG or ASG, in many cases of the government, he was made special counsel, and he was given the responsibility of that particular subject.
PC: That means his protest was wrong.
SK: No, no. Every lawyer, artist and professional.
PC: But it is public record that he said that he was removed, not asked…
SK: We did not go into that, he gave his resignation to us, and you know that, people had tried that he should give his resignation, and if given then he should take it back. When it was felt that this would not happen, we accepted the resignation letter.
PC: It all boils down to the fact that, in the government if it comes down upon the law ministry to defend everything. And if you lose, then you are blamed. Is Salman Khurshid ready, if the judiciary gives decisions against Salman Khurshid, then he should be hanged.
SK: No, we should be ready to be hanged. What is the problem in that? When we are getting so many benefits from the government, that we are on such big position, and getting so much recognition, and people like you are interviewing us, then if we cannot work rightly, if the results don’t come as expected, then shouldn’t we get the blame for that.
PC: Salman bhai has the work of defending the indefensible.
SK: I am not ready to agree that it is indefensible, but we must say out view in the best way possible to the court, and...
PC: Hence, your responsibility to present facts before the courts well, which were not put forth till now.
SK: I am not saying that.
PC: I am saying that.
SK: We have not got the results now, the way we expect from ourselves. We will make efforts to get those results.
PC: What are your priorities are law minister. There is a lot of talk about judicial accountability, you are on the defensive side on that issue.
SK: No, that bill…
PC: Will it come or not?
SK: The bill is before the parliamentary committee, standing committee, people who are experts, who have knowledge, have put evidence before the parliamentary committee, its report will come, after the report comes out, we will present the bill before Parliament, and it will be passed. If the need is felt to have more dialogue with the stakeholders and judiciary, then we will surely do it. Because this is not our agenda, this is a collective agenda.
PC: It can be understood as the nation’s agenda, but don’t you feel, in the current system of appointments of judiciary, do you think there is need for reformation. SK: See, many people think…
PC: Your thinking…
SK: that there is need for reformation here, I also agree, but I also agree that change should not be for the sake of it.
PC: There will be a consensus on the same.
SK: There will be a consensus; there has been extensive dialogue with the judiciary, in judiciary conventions, vision statements these points have come, now what form we will give to it, that will be known after final consultation…
PC: So many vacancies, there are 400 vacancies in the high courts, there are vacancies in Supreme Court, there will be six in this year. Don’t you think that, one, you are not making additional appointments, cases are increasing, isn’t it the law ministry’s responsibility to give infrastructure, people, so that decisions can be taken fast?
SK: Certainly, this is our commitment, we will do it. And if there is delay anywhere, we will try to minimise it. Last year, six lakh people who were in jail from the long time, and they should be released, because if they are punished, it will be not so much compared to the time that they have spent in jail. They were released, six lakh people…
PC: I am talking about the government. Why were the vacancies not filled, there are so many proposals before the government, but are lingering for months with you.
SK: Please see, that is not the case, I have said it clearly that such things will not happen. The normal time that is taken for obtaining information, that verification has to be done, but the initiative about this, that the judiciary…
PC: But the many cases sent before are pending for many months…
SK: I promise you, such a thing will not happen. Call me again after a few months, and talk to me about all this. …
PC: You are also the minority affairs minister, there is now talk of criminal violence bill, secondly, reservation of communities, but political parties do have reservation in office-bearers or posts in the party.
SK: Let me say two things about the same, reservation is a traditional instrument for social justice, this has been very important and successful till the point we made efforts to assimilate people from Dalit samaj and Harijan in the growth story. But now reservations beyond. Now because the influence and the scope of the private sector is increasing, there reservations have not reached.
PC: Is it true that the poor is not benefited by reservation, rich Dalits have been benefitting out of reservations not the poor dalits; hence will it happen that the rich minorities will get benefits of reservation not the poor ones. Why don’t you do economic reservation the country?
SK: The definition of Dalits is different as till now the creamy layer does not apply to them, even the court has not vetted it. As far as the OBCs or backward-class people in minorities are concerned, creamy layer will apply to them. That reservations and the constructive work that we are doing, that will be for the people who are poor. Now regarding your questions as to why reservations are not on economic basis, that is because the court has told us time and again, that you can do reservations on backwardness not on economic basis. That you can do by the medium of economic policies. Now, this is a part of our constitutional thought, we cannot oppose this part.
PC: But there can be Constitutional amendment, if it has been done 120 times, then it can also happen the 121st time.
SK: Yes, why they cannot happen, they have been happening. In promotions, we have done constitution amendments, they were denied, said to be void. Then we tried again, hence where all we can get a window for constitutional amendment, we can work.
PC: You agree with the point that financial parameter, because the poor people, as the census figures say, the number of poor people has increased in the past twenty years. These are the figures of your government, not mine.
SK: Please see, we have tried many times to give reservations on economic basis, this proposal have come from Rajasthan, this proposal has also come from other states, there have been efforts, but yet we have not been successful in any of the courts, to get this proposal vetted, that this is right as per the constitution.
PC: On the question of minority reservations, I even asked earlier, there might be hardly one general secretary from minority in your party. See the history of past 60 years in this court, you are a cabinet minister from minority, the Congress has made just six chief ministers hailing from minority, whereas there have been more than 300 chief ministers in the past 60 years. The politics that has been happening in the name of minorities in every party, in your party it has been happening more, Digvijay Singh also makes statements sometime, but why cannot a Muslim become a chief minister in this country. There have been only six.
SK: Why not, there have been six.
PC: There have been six among 300.
SK: There have been six among 300; if you want there should be more, we should efforts for this. But the solution for everything is not reservation.
PC: Not on reservation but on merit, why Salman Khushid cannot be finance minister, defence minister.
SK: Isn’t enough that he has become a law minister?
PC: That is ok, but why did the Muslim form this country did not become a prime minister, home minister till now.
SK: No, there has been.
PC: V P Singh made one.
SK: Let anybody make.
PC: I am talking about the Congress party. You are from UP were made UPCC leader there three times, but at the time of being chief minister you were given other responsibility. You mean that you Rahul Gandhi will make you win there?
SK: We have full hope.
PC: Do you think you will be made chief minister then?
SK: Why from now you are talking about who will be chief minister, who will not be? As I told you earlier, at what time what is found appropriate, there…
PC: I said this because, only six minority chief ministers, every time you talk about minorities. Do you agree with what Digvijay Singh said, who talks about the RSS, like when there were blasts in Mumbai, the Congress party gave a mature reaction, but Digvijay Singh said something else, is politics being done to make minority happy.
SK: There is not issue of doing politics in their name or doing politics for making minorities happy.
PC: What he said was right.
SK: We will do effective work. He is a political person, he has a political understanding, he wants debate in our society, what all is wrong in our society, he wants an open debate on what all is happening. He has such broad shoulders…
PC: Do you agree with him?
SK: We cannot have a debate like this. In the debate, there is no question of agreeing or not agreeing.
PC: He is the general secretary of AICC.
SK: Please see, he has started a public debate, the number of people who join in the public debate.
PC: The nation gets split if he taken name of some Hindu or Muslim outfit. This talk is wrong.
SK: That is why he wants to see that you speak on this issue, the debate goes further, result comes out. After the debate, other people, who are not on such a big and large position.
PC: You are hesitating to do ‘sachchi baat’
SK: No, I am doing ‘sachchi baat’.
PC: Now you are going for elections in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi said that 99 per cent of the blasts can be, one per cent cannot be. That is also an issue of debate.
SK: That is also an issue of debate. The common man, or even we don’t know that how many terrorist.
PC: A leader should talk like this…
SK: A leader should.
PC: Have you ever heard (US President Barack) Obama saying that they will tolerate 1 per cent?
SK: There is no question of tolerating.
PC: Told 1 per cent ho jaata hain. He spoke of possibility, not ‘we will get them’.
SK: Everybody has his own style, now if you compare American president style and say that somebody should do it in Uttar Pradesh, then how will one do it, and then that cannot happen.
PC: What is your slogan in Uttar Pradesh?
SK: Our slogan in Uttar Pradesh is that we will make and alternative administration, we present a case that we have done work which has been seen in this country, which we will do in Uttar Pradesh.
PC: Who will be the chief minister, in case by default your party wins, you don’t have confidence, but I am saying...
SK: You know about my party, that my party, not from today but from many decades.
PC: Has decided later.
SK: That we go for elections under CLP leader PCC leadership and after that the party decides who will be the chief minister.
PC: Only the prime minister is decided earlier, the chief minister is decided later. SK: No, no. In many places, when chief ministers are so strong that in their name elections can be won, then under chief ministers’ leadership...
PC: Who is the chief minister’s face in UP now?
SK: Now we have a face bigger than the chief minister there.
PC: But he will not become the chief minister…or will Rahul Gandhi be chief minister?
SK: We have bigger face than chief minister.
PC: Will you fight elections with his name? SK: Of course. Why not? PC: If there is a win, then it is his; if there is a failure, then it is of the Congress party.
SK: That is not the case. Rahul Gandhiji, I want to tell you, had come in one election there, he campaigned with full strength, and he used to say only one thing, that may be we cannot win this time. I have no worry that we might not win this time, we will win and show next time. Such a bold and courageous young leader.
PC: Can you win in UP under his leadership?
SK: Certainly. He has said one thing: don’t ask yourself now whether you can win or not, fight with the confidence that you can win.
PC: After Bihar we will also see the UP example, what will happen there. Our good wishes are with you, thank you for coming to our show.
SK: Bahut Bahut Shukriya