Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed's poll speech promise — that if the Congress is voted to power in Uttar Pradesh it will reserve nine per cent for minorities within the State OBC list — has earned the wrath of the Election Commission, which responded to a BJP complaint. But Mr. Khursheed's party has been quick to defend him, saying he was only repeating a promise made in its manifestos since 2004 — and it might also find mention, senior Congress sources said, in the Congress Vision Document 2020 for U.P., which will be released shortly.
Interestingly, the Minister's promise comes in the wake of the Union Cabinet clearing 4.5 per cent for minorities within the Central OBC quota on December 22, two days before the elections were announced.
Mr. Khursheed, who heads the Manifesto Drafting Committee for U.P., told journalists in Bareilly that he had a right to put forth his views: the EC notice to him implied, he said, “We should not bring out a manifesto, not deliver a speech and sit back at home and elections should be held without all of these.” The EC, on its part, has said Mr. Khursheed's promise violated the model code, which does not permit any appeal made on the basis of religion or caste.
With elections in U.P. barely a month away, the Congress is vigorously chasing the Muslim vote, the vote that helped the party win 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. In the run-up to those elections, Mulayam Singh-led Samajwadi Party's tie-up with Hindutva hero Kalyan Singh had alienated the Muslims: the Congress reaped the advantage. But in this election, the Muslims have forgiven the SP, and the Congress is working twice as hard for the Muslim vote.
Mr. Khursheed's promise, however, is by no means the only appeal being made to the Muslims. On Wednesday, addressing a rally in Azamgarh, the Congress's star campaigner — and general secretary Rahul Gandhi — took credit for the Rs. 6,000-crore Central package for weavers — most of whom belong to the backward Ansari community in this region. Mr. Gandhi, reports say, brought on stage a polio-stricken Muslim youth, Faizan, who, he said, had brought the plight of the community to his notice last year, and suggested that money be transferred directly to the weavers' bank accounts to eliminate middlemen, following which he lobbied the Prime Minister for a financial package for the weavers.
But wooing the Muslims is an uphill task. On Wednesday, Mr. Gandhi was heckled in Azamgarh about the Centre's stand on the Batla House encounter in Delhi in 2008, forcing Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh to repeat that the encounter was fake, and that his demand for a judicial inquiry was rejected by the Union government. All the boys killed in that encounter were Muslims from Azamgarh, and it continues to be an emotive issue in the area.