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Salman Khurshid: Effective communicator in difficult times

Tuesday December 13, 2011 04:29:52 PM, IANS

New Delhi: The beleaguered Manmohan Singh government seems to have found in Law Minister Salman Khurshid an effective public face, someone who is at ease with the media and is able to communicate the government's viewpoint on crucial issues cogently and eloquently.

Barely months into his new avatar, Khurshid, 58, an Oxford-educated politician who was out in the cold for some years after his stint as minister of state for external affairs in the Narasimha Rao government in the 1990s, knows all too well that the messenger as well as the message are equally important in these sound-byte driven times.

Khurshid, who also handles the minority affairs portfolio, came into prominence as an articulate spokesperson and a credible interlocutor when the Lokpal movement led by Anna Hazare threatened to spin out of control after the arrest of the septuagenarian activist in August.

At that point, the government was suffering from a major image problem and under attack from a bellicose opposition and fiery civil rights activists, made worse by the seeming arrogance and double-talking of senior cabinet ministers like Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram.

Khurshid, who has also been schooled in the politics of the Hindi heartland by virtue of being Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president, brought in a touch of gentleness and reasonableness without deviating from the government's core position. He is able to score debating points against the opposition instead of being either on the defensive or disdainful, unlike many of his cabinet colleagues.

He is part of the seven-member group of ministers (GoM) on media that is headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and also includes Ambika Soni (information and broadcasting), Ghulam Nabi Azad (health and family welfare), Kapil Sibal (human resource development), P.K. Bansal (parliamentary affairs) and V. Narayanasamy (minister of state in PMO).

When the media cornered Khurshid after the Jantar Mantar show Sunday that was joined in by the entire opposition, he said confidently that the government knew what it was doing and dismissed the opposition show as "shadowboxing".

"...There was never an issue. They had shadowboxing. Nobody ever said the prime minister shouldn't be included..." he told journalists.

"He is a good choice. He is as effective while interacting with foreign dignitaries as much as negotiating with the hot-headed Team Anna or making a fiery speech against Chief Minister Mayawati in an Uttar Pradesh town," a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, told IANS.

"He is doing a very good job... He is able to put across the government's point of view effectively," said Mridula Mukherjee, history professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

"Before he was projected about six months ago, the government was swinging between divergent approaches. Its message was also confused as much as the messengers," said Mukherjee.

Khurshid's fluency in three languages - English, Hindi and Urdu - have come handy to the government, which has been criticised for suffering from a crippling communication gap.

Khurshid's added advantage is that he enjoys the confidence of what is called the Congress 'trinity' - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi - says another party insider. He has also worked well with the government's key troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee, party circles say.

"So far, he has been very articulate, firm but cool on even hot political issues. But he knows when to keep quiet," said another Congress leader, who did not wish to be named.

"His Oxford-Stephanian educational background, his pedigree - the son of Khurshid Alam Khan, a former external affairs minister, grandson of former president Zakir Hussain, his multi-religious family background - all these have helped to make him an effective public face of the party in difficult times," said the leader.









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