No end to Khurshid’s troubles as poll panel approaches President

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New Delhi: Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid appeared headed for fresh trouble Saturday as the Election Commission sought President Pratibha Patil’s “immediate and decisive intervention” following his defiant stand on quota for backward Muslims in Uttar Pradesh despite the poll panel’s censure.

Reacting to the development, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded Khurshid be sacked.

Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quarishi wrote a strongly-worded letter to the president, saying the poll panel found the tone and tenor of the union minister’s latest remarks “utterly contemptuous about the commission’s lawful direction to him”.

With the poll panel at present supervising seven-phased elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly, Quraishi said the minister’s fresh remarks have “created a disturbing situation”.

“The full commission hence deliberated on the matter in an emergency meeting this (Saturday) afternoon while being concerned about the fact that Khurshid’s action could vitiate free and fair poll in Uttar Pradesh,” the letter said.

“The commission is perturbed because the undermining of its constitutionally-mandated duties has come from the law minister who has a direct responsibility to uphold and strengthen the ECI rather than to denigrate it,” Quraishi said in his letter.

“The Election Commission of India finds it necessary and unavoidable to turn to you at this juncture for immediate and decisive intervention so that the ongoing election to the Uttar Pradesh assembly is conducted, and this commission discharges its functions in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” the letter said.

“The commission is quite concerned that the delicate balance of functions between constitutional authorities has come under a strain, because of the minister’s improper and unlawful action,” it added.

Quraishi, whose letter to the president was marked “top most priorty” and sent through a special messenger, said television media had reported Saturday about Khurshid making statements to the effect that he would pursue the line of his earlier announcement irrespective of whatever the commission directs.

“In fact, the union minister goes on to say that he would stick to his line, ‘even if they hang me’. We have found the tone and tenor of the union minister dismissive and utterly contemptuous about the cCommission’s lawful direction to him, besides the fact that his action is damaging the level playing field in the election,” the letter said.

“The commission is shocked that instead of being remorseful about the violation of the Model Code, that carries the consensus of all political parties and the sanction of the Supreme Court, the minister has chosen to be defiant and aggressive. This is unprecedented.”

Khurshid triggered a fresh controversy Friday evening with his remarks that he will ensure rights to “pasmanda (backward Muslims)” even if he is “hanged” by the poll panel.

BJP leader Balbir Punj said Khurshid was undermining the authority of poll panel with his remarks.

“It is very sad. The Prime Minister must sack Khurshid immediately,” he said.

The poll panel had censured Khurshid over his promise to give nine percent quota to minorities, including backward Muslims, within 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) if the Congress is voted to power in Uttar Pradesh, saying it was violation of model code of conduct.