Khurshid and home minister P Chidambaram at a news meet in Bangalore on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 10: Law minister Salman Khurshid appears to have stumbled into a crisis by making comments about Rahul Gandhi that would normally be considered a sacrilege in the Congress.
Khurshid promptly clarified his remarks and blamed the media for “misinterpretation” and “negative projection”, but senior Congress leaders believed the damage was done. Rival parties used his comments to buttress their charge of policy paralysis and to question Rahul’s credentials as a leader.
A newspaper today quoted Khurshid as talking of lack of direction in the party, arguing that Sonia Gandhi and not Manmohan Singh could set the stage for change and that Rahul was only playing a cameo role instead of assuming the leadership upfront.
The interview also reported Khurshid’s argument about Rahul not giving “ideological direction” to the party and this being the “waiting period” because of the reluctance of the clear No. 2 to take charge.
Senior leaders wondered what had happened to Khurshid, who is a member of the group of ministers on media (GoM-media), the government’s formal communication system.
Sources revealed that Khurshid had been pulled up and asked to explain his remarks immediately. He told the leadership that the media had made a mischievous presentation of his positive arguments.
Khurshid promptly addressed a news conference, accusing the media of wrongly interpreting his remarks but some party leaders noted that he had not denied his comments on Rahul.
“My urging of young and new leadership of our party to prepare themselves to lead from the front, to prepare themselves to take on the challenge of our times is something you must see in the right context rather than in the negative context,” Khurshid said.
“I, on reflection, feel this (discussion about leadership) is something that we should restrict to within our party forum. Obviously every time that we reach out to you, talk to you, it is for you to make a decision. Are you going to see that in a positive light? Or are you going to project it in a negative light?”
Party leaders feel the indiscretion will not be easily forgiven. An AICC official said: “How can a GoM-media member provide fodder to the Opposition to attack our leadership and the government? The Samajwadi Party is now saying Rahul is not leader material, the BJP is using his remarks to prove the charge of drift.”
Several Sonia loyalists feel Rahul is wasting time in the Youth Congress. They want him to become a cabinet minister so that the question of “inexperience” is not raised when his name is proposed for Prime Minister. In private conversations, many of Rahul’s well-wishers have expressed frustration at his cautious approach to politics.
But senior leaders insisted this could not be a subject of public discourse for Congress members to participate in.
No minister came out to defend Khurshid. One of his cabinet colleagues said: “He says the media did mischief but ask him what was the need to discuss Rahul’s politics at all?”
Khurshid, who is considered very talented and has a rapport with Sonia, attracted much sympathy in the party when he was made a minister of state while his juniors got plum cabinet portfolios.
The Prime Minister gradually recognised his abilities and not only made him law minister in the last shuffle but also made him the face of the government by inducting him into the GoM-media.
His sober, moderate and urbane face along with his articulation skills helped him regain lost ground. But the Uttar Pradesh election came as a shock; his wife lost and he triggered controversy with his remarks on quota for minorities.
He faltered again by making his desire to work for the party public — an offer that was misconstrued as the second Kamraj plan. With his comments on Rahul, he might attract special attention in the cabinet shuffle due soon.