A firm and quick end must be put to Law Minister Salman Khursheed's brazen defiance of the Election Commission of India. It is most unseemly that someone in charge of a ministry that oversees justice and legal affairs in this country should tangle with a constitutional authority, and that too over an issue on which he has no plausible defence. If the EC was persuaded to write to President Pratibha Patil “seeking immediate and decisive” intervention — an unusual step insofar as such a course of action is not prescribed by statute anywhere — it is precisely because Mr. Khursheed chose repeatedly to violate the Model Code of Conduct in the overheated election campaign to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. He seems far from chastened by the EC's censure for promising a nine per cent sub-quota for minorities (read Muslims) out of the 27 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions for the Other Backward Classes. Mr. Khursheed's defence for what he did is disingenuous. He had argued, and incorrectly, that carving out job quotas for minorities from existing reservation for OBCs was a Congress election manifesto promise; moreover, he had maintained that this was only a conditional declaration of intent in the event of the Congress coming to power and not a policy announcement. As the EC correctly concluded, the simple question that needed to be settled was whether he had violated the Model Code of Conduct by making a new promise — something the facts clearly showed he had.
The issue has become much too contentious and significant to be brushed under the carpet with platitudinous remarks. Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi's remark that all Congressmen must speak as “per the norms of public life and the law of the land” is a piece of unapologetic evasion. Others who suggest Mr. Khursheed said what he did in the election campaign as a Congressman and not a Minister are making light of the fact that a constitutional authority has charged the Law Minister with improper conduct. It will be a huge embarrassment for the Congress as well as the Central government if a quick and unconditional apology — coupled with an assurance that there will be no future violations of the Model Code — cannot be forced out of Mr. Khursheed. The purpose of the Code is to ensure a level playing field for all political parties and contestants — to see that our polls are as free and fair as possible. To merely distance itself from Mr. Khursheed's campaign rhetoric is not enough. It is imperative that the Central government and the Congress demonstrate their respect for the Election Commission and accept its rulings.