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.
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
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
"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
"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.