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Muslim quota is in Congress manifesto, says Salman Khurshid

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid has criticised the Election Commission (EC) for issuing a notice to him for his Muslim sub-quota promise and claimed he did not violate the model code of conduct.

January 12, 2012 / 11:11 AM IST

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid has criticised the Election Commission (EC) for issuing a notice to him for his Muslim sub-quota promise and claimed he did not violate the model code of conduct. Khurshid defended his announcement of granting sub-quota to Muslims if Congress came to power in Uttar Pradesh and insisted that it is not a poll violation of any sorts.

The EC issued notice to Khurshid and his wife, Louise who is a Congress candidate for the violation of model code of conduct, after the BJP complained calling the announcement unconstitutional.

Khurshid had promised 9 per cent sub-quota for backward Muslims within 27 per cent OBC quota in Uttar Pradesh if the party wins the Assembly elections.

Khurshid spoke to IBN 18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai on the issue.

Below is the transcript of the interview:

Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Khurshid, the Election Commission has sent you a notice alleging that you have violated para 1 (3) of the code of conduct by appealing to a community for votes in your speech in Farrukhabad when you said that if the Congress was voted to power in UP, you would bring a nine per cent quota for Muslims within the OBC reservation.

Salman Khurshid: Let's get it very clear. Don't bring in the word Muslim. It is backward minority in the OBCs which includes Muslims and non-Muslims and whatever is the entry in the OBC list is a constitutionally valid entry. That constitutionally valid entry cannot be discussed in an election, I do not agree with the EC notice and will reply to the EC notice, they have responded to a complaint made by the BJP. I will reply to that notice and my party will reply to that notice.

Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Khurshid, you are saying the appeal was not specifically directed at Muslims, but the fact is that the audience in Farrukhabad had a large Muslim population and it was clear that your appeal was directed at the Muslims of Farrukhabad, not the minorities.

Salman Khurshid: Not at all. Not at all. I am saying that on TV now to you. I have said that earlier. You don't know who was in the crowd. Nobody knows who was in the crowd. Anybody in the crowd who has an objection can say I have an objection; this is a stated policy in our manifesto. Are you saying that what is said in our manifesto since 2004, I have no right to repeat in a particular meeting of candidates being supported by the voters. I cannot repeat my manifesto. Is the manifesto a secret thing not in the public domain that cannot be repeated?

Rajdeep Sardesai: The BJP also says that you have violated para 7 of the code of conduct, misused your official position as minorities affairs minister for the purpose of election campaign by making policy announcements. The BJP also says that you can't even say this is part of the Congress manifesto because the Congress manifesto for UP hasn't even made public yet.

Salman Khurshid: The 2004 manifesto of the Congress party and Congress's national manifesto in the last elections has this. Please go and read the manifesto. The BJP doesn't read our manifesto. Now as far as announcement is concerned, this is not a government announcement. Ministers when they go and campaign they go there as individuals and ordinary leaders of the party. We are not allowed to take our official trappings with us, not allowed to travel in official cars. It is not an official announcement. I'm not going to be a minister in UP. I am announcing on the behalf of my party. If my party cannot announce our stated programs then the party should not go to the election at all.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But the fact is that you are making an appeal that will be interpreted by many as an appeal on ground of religion which is prohibited by the election code of conduct.

Salman Khurshid: Not at all. Why do you state something that's based on Constitution. You are trying to insult our Constitution by suggesting what is accepted in Constitution is legitimate, fair and desirable is something you cannot repeat in election. I swear by our Constitution and I repeat only what our Constitution allows. I ask if we say Aligarh University will have a minority character, if we say Jamia will have a minority character, is that appealing to the minority and the Muslims?

Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Khurshid, you keep taking refuge in the Constitution. But the fact is that the Constitution does not have any provision that allows for reservation for religious minorities.

Salman Khurshid: Where in the Constitution it is stated that you can have reservation on the grounds of castes?

Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, caste is one thing, religion and religious minority reservation is quite another.

Salman Khurshid: I suggest that before you take this brief forward, Rajdeep you are a lawyer, please read Indira Sawhney and it will tell you where minorities come in, where castes come in, where communities come in, where groups come in. Starting point for reservation has to be a class. The class can be religion, caste or any other definition but please read the judgement carefully and then we will talk about it.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir, you've actually gone even a step further than what you announced as a central minister. You've gone now from 4.5 per cent reservation to 9 per cent quota for UP. Where will this all end?

Salman Khurshid: Let me explain 4.5 is in the central list and 4.5 is based on the national population of minorities, 8-9 per cent that we have thought of is in the UP list, specific to the UP list where the population of minorities is much higher than the aggregate population of minorities in the whole country.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir, isn't there a danger as we've seen with Dalit Christians that the principle of backwardness when applied to religion can lead to fresh antagonisms as the BJP has already warned?

Salman Khurshid: No, no! Of course. Of course for the sake of majority you just marginalise the minority and you are fine. We either have a stated principle of backwardness and the backwardness that Indira Sawhney states applies equally to all communities. You cannot say that the dhobi of one community is backward but the dhobi of another community is not backward. You cannot use religion to exclude people. You have to allow the backwardness to work equally no matter what the community is.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir, in the process are we not running an even greater risk now of not just a forward-backward divide, but also a Hindu-Muslim divide over reservations?

Salman Khurshid: I don't think we should go by speculation. We go by the feedback we get from communities, the feedback that we get from across religious divide, the feedback that we get from people as a whole. My request to you is that as part of the media do not feed those people who want to create a divide. This is a way that we bring communities together by letting them share goods that society is providing for them.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But sir, aren't the real challenges how to increase education opportunities, how to provide affirmative action for Muslims. Is quotas really the answer.

Salman Khurshid: Of course formative action and education are the answers. That's the reason we have introduced MLGP and 15 point programmes. That's why we want the equal opportunities commissions. If people support me on equal opportunities commissions we will not do community specific exercises but we will do exercises that cut across the board. Therefore I ask the media to support us in this argument that one day India should move away from reservations where people in public and private sector get equal opportunity on the basis of the law of the Constitution.

Rajdeep Sardesai: But the fact is that this issue is being raised on the eve of elections in UP. It has been hanging fire for years. Now by raising it, will it not be seen as vote bank politics of the worst kind?

Salman Khurshid: Not at all. I have been saying since I was the President of Congress in UP. I put it in my manifesto, this is a national manifesto. I'm not going to get self conscious because somebody misleads anyone to believing that this is being done only for this election. We have been doing this for a long time and we should get support from liberal people like you who are fair and secular minded. At last somebody in the Constitution has got a chance that they have been told in the Constitution they should get. But because the way our system functions, they have not been able to get that chance.