Also disowns Digvijay Singh's view that Batla House gun battle was a fake encounter

The Congress on Friday distanced itself from Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid's election speech promise of nine per cent reservation for minorities within the 27.5 per cent quota for the OBCs in Uttar Pradesh.

Days after defending him, pointing out that such a quota commitment had not just figured in the party's earlier manifestos but it was likely to feature in the manifesto for U.P. (which is yet to be released), the Congress did a volte face. Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi, asked about the Election Commission's show-cause to the Minister, said: “If an individual says something in his personal capacity, then the answer must come from that individual. There is democracy in the party which allows each individual to express his view.”

Now that the minority quota issue is at the centre of a raging controversy, with the EC taking a tough stand and the Congress' rivals all wading in, it seemed the party felt it would be wiser to make Mr. Khurshid's statement sound as though it was the view of one individual rather than a considered promise by the party to lessen the political fallout.

Mr. Khurshid has not just attracted the EC's show-cause on his quotapromise— after the Bharatiya Janata Party filed a complaint — but its wrath when he said last month both on a television channel and in Parliament, while explaining that all institutions are under some control, that foreign trips undertaken by the Election Commissioners needed clearance by his Ministry. The EC, interpreting this statement as an encroachment on its autonomy and independence, has written to the Prime Minister on the issue.

On the eve of the elections to five States, the Congress evidently does not want to incur the EC's displeasure. This became apparent when Mr. Alvi, while describing the Commission putting on hold the Union Cabinet's decision on the 4.5 per cent quota for minorities as “unfortunate,” stressed that its was within its rights to take any action. “No one can point a finger at the EC,” he said, stressing, “it is a constitutional body and therefore, above criticism.”

“Why reopen issue?”

The Congress also disowned general secretary Digvijay Singh's view that the gun battle in Batla House here in 2008 was a fake encounter. Instead, Mr. Alvi said, the party supported the government's view as articulated by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Thursday that there was no question of its opening up the enquiry into that episode again.

Indicating the party's disquiet at Mr. Singh reopening the Batla House issue, Mr. Alvi said there was a nationwide debate after the 2008 incident: “People have different opinions on the issue and no one should do politics on the matter.”

For the Congress, courting controversy on issues that could impact the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh is now becoming a habit. The question that faces the party now is: will any of this pay dividends or backfire on it?