National Election Watch has dedicated itself to running down criminals in politics, naming and shaming them on the basis of fact. As part of its mandate, it analyses reams of paper ahead of and immediately after every election: how many candidates fought the election though they had criminal cases registered against them? How many have PAN cards, which means, do they file income tax returns? How many are graduates and above?
In the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2012, 14 per cent of candidates and 19 per cent of winners had serious criminal cases against them; 46 per cent had no PAN number and 22 per cent were crorepatis.
Louise Khurshid, who contested the election from Kayamganj, district Farrukhabad, had no criminal case against her, serious or otherwise. The daughter of an IAS officer (the first chief secretary of Goa after its liberation) and the wife of Union law minister, she would probably shudder at the thought of breaking the law. With a degree from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi, and an MA in journalism from Marquette University, US, she was probably more educated than many of the reporters present at the press conference where she tried her best to explain that a sting operation that charged her and her husband, Salman, of defalcation might have got it wrong. When no one listened, Louise, and later Salman, lost their temper in frustration. It made for great TV but what lingered was the episode, not the actual clarification they were trying to make.
India Today levelled the accusation that the union social welfare and empowerment ministry had granted Rs 71.50 lakh to the Khurshids’ trust for distributing tricycles and hearing aids to the disabled in 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Salman is president of the trust, Louise is project director. Some people, the report claimed, didn’t get the hearing aids they were supposed to and claimed this was contained in a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In fact, there’s only a draft CAG report, so the Khurshids filed a defamation case. The India Today Group now says in a letter to Louise that “some persons in the Trust or those associated with it are indulging in wrongdoing which you and Salman may not be aware of” and says it has the highest regard for Salman.
Therefore, when social activist Arvind Kejriwal charged Khurshid with corruption on the basis of the India Today group report, he did not know he was skating on thin ice. Now, one of his supporters, Kumar Vishvas, says it was not possible for India Against Corruption to check every single fact. So when someone did a sting operation, IAC took it up. If the facts were wrong, too bad.
Louise is a journalist herself. She worked with Sunday magazine and before that, with The Telegraph. A common love of theatre and the creative arts brought Salman and Louise together in the 1980s. Despite vastly different family and religious backgrounds, they got married and, influenced by the political family she was married into, Louise decided to join politics. A Catholic from Mangalore contested the UP Assembly elections in 2002 and became an MLA.
The hurly burly of politics may have made Louise tougher than she ever imagined she could be but a core of sensitivity remains. Countless small acts of kindness by the couple extended to people they didn’t even know — passports for families in strained circumstances cutting the red-tape short; a hospital bed for a hit-and-run victim, school admission for the gifted child of a peon... their home was a menagerie for all animals, wounded and sick. If you think about it, all that was probably abuse of authority and power too.
In a sea of corruption that is politics, allegations and outrage against soft targets is easy to evoke. Louise and Salman Khurshid are no Pappu Yadav or Madhu Koda. But beware the fury of the patient!