The Election Commission today censured Union Minister for Law and Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid for his remarks on sub-quota for minorities finding them to be a violation of the model code of conduct for elections.
Khurshid, while campaigning for his wife Louise, a Congress candidate from Farrukhabad assembly constituency in Uttar Pradesh, had promised the electorate last month that the party would increase the sub-quota for minorities to nine per cent, out of the 27 per cent Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation.
The EC order came on BJP's complaint about Khurshid's remarks, asking the Commission to take action against him for violation of the model code of conduct.
The Election Commission - comprising Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi and Election Commissioners V S Sampath and H S Brahma, in its 15-page order, held that Khurshid had violated the model code of conduct and hoped and expected he would not repeat such violations.
"The Commission hereby censures Shri Salman Khurshid and hopes and expects that such violations of the model code of conduct would not be repeated by him in future," said the EC order.
It said "Salman Khurshid has violated the model code of conduct by making the above-said promise. The Commission, therefore, cannot help expressing its deep anguish and disappointment over his violation of model code of conduct.
"As a Union Minister for Law and Minority Affairs, he has an added responsibility of ensuring that the model code of conduct is observed in letter and spirit so that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner and all political parties enjoy a level-playing field in the matter of their election campaigns", the EC said.
The Commission held that Khurshid was addressing the common people at public meetings as Union Minister and not as a Congress leader.
Setting aside the Congress plea in this regard, the EC said "the above contention is also not tenable for the reason that in the perception of common man, which is of paramount consideration, the respondent addressed them at public meetings as Union Minister for Law and Minority Affairs and not as mere leader of the Congress party."
The Commission said it "has come to the inescapable conclusion that the respondent, Shri Salman Khurshid, made a new promise to a distinct targeted group of the electorate among the minorities that 9 per cent seats would be reserved for them from out of the overall quota of 27 per cent for the other backward classes.
"The Commission is also satisfied that the above promise was made by Shri Salman Khurshid as Union Minister for Law and Minority Affairs. Thus, Shri Salman Khurshid has violated the model code of conduct by making the abovesaid promise. The Commission, therefore, cannot help expressing its deep anguish and disappointment over his violation of model code of conduct."
In their complaint against Khurshid, BJP had said "this direct appeal on religious, caste and communal basis was a direct and blatant violation of the model code of conduct".
BJP also alleged Khurshid had violated the election code with his promise as UP has a sizeable population of minorities, especially Muslims, who were being wooed by Congress ahead of the upcoming assembly polls in the state.
A BJP delegation led by party Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had also met the CEC alleging Khurshid was seeking votes in the name of religion, which was a "serious violation " of election laws.
The Commission had earlier served a notice to Khurshid on January 10, asking him to reply by January 12, why action should not be taken against him for violation of model code of conduct.
After receiving Khurshid's reply, in which he claimed having not violated any poll code violation, the Commission also heard his counsel Abhishek Singhvi twice, as also BJP counsel Ravi Shankar Prasad, before deciding on the complaint.
Khurshid declined to react to the EC order saying it will not be appropriate on his part to do so.
Congress downplays EC's censure
Congress downplayed the Election Commission's censure of Salman Khurshid for violation of the model code of conduct.
Party General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said, "Salman Khurshid has said something. Election Commission has commented on it. The matter is closed".
BJP demands Khurshid's resignation
BJP demanded the resignation of Salman Khurshid after he was censured by the Election Commission for violating the model code of conduct, and asked the Prime Minister to clarify his stand on the issue of sub-quota for minorities.
"This verdict from EC is sufficient to demand resignation of Salman Khurshid from government. It also demands that the Prime Minister must clarify his stand on this unconstitutional announcement made by his Law Minister to give religion-based reservation to minorities, especially Muslims," BJP Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
"This was an unconstitutional announcement made by a person sitting on constitutional post and it clearly shows that Congress still believes in the divide and rule policy for political gains," Naqvi said.
The BJP leader said "Khurshid had tried to destroy the social harmony and fabric of the country and Uttar Pradesh for political gains."
In his reaction, BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the complaint of the BJP against Khurshid stood vindicated. Prasad had earlier appeared as a counsel for the BJP in the case before the EC.
"The decision of the EC is welcome. Salman Khurshid was not only a Congress leader but also the Minority Affairs Minister when he made the announcement of nine per cent reservation for minorities after the model code of conduct came into being," he said.
"He was trying to cause unfair advantage to the Congress by this announcement and violated the level playing field on which the entire model code functions. Therefore the complaint of the BJP against Khurshid stands vindicated," Prasad said.