Salman Khurshid is a man of many words. Some of them get him in trouble, as when he stumbled into a moment of candour while ruminating on the future of his party and its MIA crown prince. A rather sizeable gaffe that perhaps explains his latest and lengthy outing in Tehelka magazine which may be read as self-imposed punishment. That his essay is no kinder to the reader is unfortunate.
Khurshid is a man on a mission, albeit of the somewhat impossible kind. One part is to defend the virtue of his fair party, the other to castigate its current nemesis, Anna Hazare. And he strives mightily to do both while occupying the lofty if precarious perch of moral condescension. The result is a garbled mix of wild assertion and clumsy insinuation, peppered with the occasional intriguing fact. But what pushes this laboured effort into the territory of the absurd is its highfalutin prose. This is Khurshid aiming for his best Gore Vidal: withering wit employed to devastating effect. What he achieves instead is a mediocre college essay that screams ‘all-nighter.’
For instance, there’s the ‘look, I did my reading’ motif. The piece is brimming with references to the Irish conflict, Cold War history, Shakespeare, and World War II as Khurshid compares Anna to everyone from Joseph McCarthy to Brutus to Bobby Sands. Some of these would be offensive if they weren’t quite so silly, and hamstrung by an absence of logic. I will limit myself to just one example:
What is the Anna Hazare story beyond the soundbites? If I could dub him a dishonest man, there would be no more to say. But despite much that is perplexing, I still believe that he is basically honest, but weak. Of course, for a man who fasts every time the future looks bleak, the description ‘weak’ seems inappropriate; you surely need some strength to forego food for days on end. So, whilst one cannot deny being impressed by Anna’s ability to fast, the cryptic words of Britain’s then prime minister Margaret Thatcher upon the death of Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist Bobby Sands, who starved himself to an untimely end, remain apt: “Bobby Sands had the option to live; the men he killed were never given that option!” Fortunately, Anna stops short of the inevitable but seems as ruthless in letting his followers kill people’s reputations with barbs of corruption. Sands executed his victims once but India Against Corruption (IAC) attempts to do it repeatedly. The sacrifice of IRA leaders was dismissed but it must have played some part in the final settlement that was relentlessly negotiated behind closed doors.
Yes, it is this bad. Yes, Khurshid does indeed think that an inexplicable foray into IRA history — the kind culled from Wikipedia — will befuddle us into embracing the notion that calling a Congressman names is indeed a greater crime against humanity than killing someone, anyone. And never mind the Thatcher quote actually reads: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims.” It’s not just Mr Khurshid’s analytical skills that need work.
But faux moral dudgeon rarely has room for either fact-checking or reason. So the essay bounces merrily on, traipsing around the world and in history, drawing wildly inapt parallels. The Hazare-ites are like McCarthyites because one is on a witch-hunt for the corrupt and the other for communists. Surely it suffices that both words start with ‘C’, never mind that corruption is not an ideology but a crime. Steal hundreds of crores or embrace Karl Marx, same difference.
The most damaging bits of Khurshid’s essay centre on Hazare’s personal shortcomings. His secret negotiations with Khurshid display what have now become a signature Hazare qualities: the penchant for unpredictable, unilateral action; rhetoric that swings between conciliatory and hyperbolic; lack of clarity about aims and strategies. All of which creates a whiff of ambiguity, allowing Khurshid to remark: “He seems to speak one language when he is alone and another in the company of IAC members.” And to leave us wondering, when he claims: “Before leaving, I wondered what to say if I was asked about the meeting. He said there was nothing wrong in saying an untruth for the good of the country.”
But to the good fortune of Anna’s supporters these nagging question marks are buried alongside amusing fictions such this: “People often ask why we talked to the IAC or indeed to Anna? Frankly because we gave them the benefit of doubt and felt that we had a duty to explore all possibilities for the general good.”
Khurshid ends where he begins: with his beloved Congress party, standing tall and alone, the wronged champion of all things good, including — if you believe it — the Lokpal bill.
Now that’s entertainment, folks!
You can read Khurshid’s herculean labour in its entirety on the Tehelka website.