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Published On:11 July 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

INTERVIEW: 'We'll act on Muslim quota within OBC quota soon'

Water resources minister Salman Khurshid played a pivotal role in the negotiations on the Lokpal bill with Team Anna. The other hat he wears as minority affairs minister has become crucial as the UPA government prepares to go ahead with reservations for Muslims within the OBC quota with an eye on next year's UP polls. He talks to Arati R Jerath on a range of issues including his first literary effort, a play called "Sons of Babar".

You recently said that the Sachar Committee report is not sacrosanct like the Quran. It can be questioned. Which parts of the report need to be reviewed in your opinion?

Not questioned but critically examined in application. I think that is also the feeling of the authors. The problems are those aspects of Sachar recommendations that are not reflected in legislation, primarily the legislation relating to Wakf Boards, recommendations like having a separate cadre for Muslim officers for Wakf. We have never accepted this. So I'm saying let's at least critically examine such recommendations to see whether they will serve the purpose of the Sachar Committee, which is 'mainstreaming and equality'. I have no problems with the factual findings of the report.

Why is your government, which facilitated this valuable study on the status of Indian Muslims, dragging its feet on implementation of its recommendations?

We are not dragging our feet. We are trying to ensure that the implementation is not questioned in court. Look what happened in the Andhra Pradesh High Court on reservations (for Muslims). The matter is now in the Supreme Court.

There are reports that you are considering Muslim reservations within the OBC quota.

Absolutely. Sachar described them as SEBC, socially and educationally backward classes. This is a special segment within OBC. It's a model that has been pursued in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. We are looking at that model and seeing what is the best form that can be applied centrally. The discussions have gone pretty far. We have had several rounds between the various ministries. It has gone up to the core group. Now we are waiting for appropriate directions from the leadership. As soon as we are ready, we will move forward.

What about the Equal Opportunities Commission?

A Cabinet note has already been circulated to all the ministries, so the Cabinet should consider it shortly. The proposal was reviewed earlier by a GOM whose view was somewhat at variance with Sachar. I'm trying to push Sachar. I am bound by the recommendations of the GOM but I will continue to try and persuade my colleagues that the Sachar formulation must be pursued in toto.

Rahul Gandhi is making a strong bid to put the Congress back in contention in UP. But the Congress is still organizationally weak in UP whereas BSP and SP have strong grassroots networks. How will you meet this challenge?

I am not entirely in agreement that SP has a strong grassroots organization. Most ruling parties in UP have a strong psychological organization, by which I mean they get support in return for favours from the government. They don't have an organization with ideologically committed supporters. The Congress base in UP may be small but it has an ideological base that remains strong. We have been out of power for 25 years but we still have a base. It's not a small thing. An organization is an important element of successful politics but it's not sufficient. You need something more. Rahul Gandhi is trying to work us into a position in which the psychological and ideological combination might give us a winning combination.

If you are determined to oust the Mayawati government, why don't you go in for a pre-poll understanding with SP and Ajit Singh's RLD instead of letting the anti-Mayawati votes get divided?

We are not the sole contractors of Mayawati's exit. Others should think about it as well. And they should remember what happened the last time we suggested an understanding (before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls). We won 22 seats. They had offered us only 11. Our leadership is wary of opportunism. I don't know what decision would be taken by the leadership finally. There are negative and positive points. And as you can see, alliance politics has been difficult for us. We don't have an ideological problem with alliances but we do have strategic concerns.

The battle lines over the Lokpal bill are firmly drawn between civil society and the political class and within the political class as well. In this atmosphere, do you think Lokpal will become a reality? If so, when?

I am certain the bill will be placed in Parliament in the monsoon session. Then, it's for Parliament to decide what to do with it. My feeling is it will go to the standing committee and I hope the committee will show a sense of urgency in clearing it.

What lessons have you learnt in the last four months of drama over the Lokpal bill?

There's a new kind of politics that is rewriting the rules of the game. It's too early to judge whether it's cosmetic or substantive. But even if it's cosmetic, it's something we must factor into our decision-making process. Social media, new media, the electronic media are playing a major role in controlling public perceptions. It's difficult to tell right now how deep the footprint is but it's not something to be scoffed at or ignored. We will have to learn the art of handling the media.

Your government is being criticized on several counts: corruption, indecision, vacillation. In your opinion, what is the biggest weakness of your government today?

Hopefully, all that is behind us now. We did hit a terrible air pocket with aberrations in 2G and CWG. These were not collective decisions. In fact, one of the criticisms is that we allowed too much freelancing by some parts of government and they were not as closely monitored as they should have been. Some lessons have been learnt. We have been able to isolate the affected areas of the body as it were and now we can nurse the rest of it back to health. We have time fortunately. And the biggest advantage is that despite things going horribly wrong, our top leadership is not being questioned by anyone in this country.

You recently wrote a play called "Sons of Babar". What compelled you to take time off from politics to dabble in creative writing?

Because people are not willing to understand what you say in politics. I was hoping that they would understand what is said in a literary form. You can put things you want to say into the mouths of other people in a play. My message was about identity of Indians. There are many questions about it. Some people have tried to portray the sons of Babar as foreigners but for me, they are also the sons of Bahadurshah Zafar.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 11, 2011. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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