Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How does Salman Khurshid defend himself against charges of embezzlement – that's the key issue I shall discuss today with the Law Minister Salman Khurshid. Mr Khurshid, let's start with the allegations leveled against you and your wife, Louise Khurshid. Are you guilty of using the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, which the two of you run, to embezzle tens of lakhs of government money intended for the physically-handicapped and the disabled.
Salman Khurshid: Let's do our things a little carefully to begin with. Let me give you a caveat to begin with. Consciously and deliberately, I stay out of the running of the trust, because I am in government. But it's a trust that is dear to me. And a trust that has, for me, been a very important part of my life, as a social worker and as a public figure. Yes, my wife is a director and she is hands-on. Second, to remain within the area of proportionality, the issue pertains to a grant of Rs 71 lakh. Right? We are not going back to the day I was born…
Karan Thapar: Quite right.
Salman Khurshid: Let's first agree if the amount is Rs 71 lakh.
Karan Thapar: Rs 71 lakh in the year 2009-10 and then there is this issue of Rs 68 lakh in March 2011.
Salman Khurshid: There is no issue of Rs 68 lakh. Let's be clear. It's Rs 71 lakh, saying that if Rs 71 lakh were not utilised correctly, Rs 68 lakh shouldn't have come. Fine? So Rs 71 lakh is what needs to be explained.
Karan Thapar: Have you embezzled the Rs 71 lakh?
Salman Khurshid: The answer is, nobody has said that we have embezzled unless they are being dishonest. Nobody has said Rs 71 lakh have been embezzled, first. Two, if somebody is saying that there has been an embezzlement or a diversion, the answer is no. Three, do you think I am so stupid that I would allow a trust associated not just with me, but the name of a president of India, a president of India who is highly respected, to embezzle Rs 71 lakh?
Karan Thapar: I will let you give the answer in full. But I am going to come back to the first point, that no one has accused you of embezzlement. In fact, an initial finding of a preliminary report of the CAG said and I am quoting that their findings indicate 'suspected fraud in the accounts of the trust'. The same report says that after giving notice to the trust on two separate occasions, when it came to audit your accounts, no one was there. Now suspected fraud…
Salman Khurshid: You want an answer to that? Suspected fraud in the accounts of your trust… accounts they never saw? Is that a finding? They never saw the accounts, by their own admission because according to them the accounts were not available. So how can you suspect something that you have not seen? You can suspect that something is not there but to say that we suspect their accounts that they have not seen… first. Secondly, they said when they went to ask for the accounts, nobody was there. Where did they go to ask for the accounts? The residence at which I have lived all my life, both my parents live there.. they never go anywhere… We have never, never received from them a piece of paper saying somebody came to make an enquiry and then finally, Karan, on a lighter note, you know who my neighbour is? Perhaps you don't know. It's Vinod Rai, the CAG. He is my neighbour.
Karan Thapar: In other words, he could have found you easily.
Salman Khurshid: Well I just said it in a lighter tone. I don't mean to say that the CAG goes on checking the houses of his neighbours…
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. The CAG report that I am quoting says that there are four districts where your trust claimed to the Ministry that in fact they had carried out camps. In fact they discovered that nothing had happened in the four districts. And the conclusion, and this is very important, the conclusion of the CAG report comes to this. It is suggested that the grant of Rs 71.05 lakh may be recovered from the trust along with up to date interest on it. Now that may be a preliminary conclusion, but it is damning nonetheless. They want all the money back.
Salman Khurshid: Of course and if the camps did not take place, they must get the money back. And if the camps didn't take place, I have a lot to answer. What I am saying to you is very simple, very simple. The camps took place. I inaugurated them. My other colleagues inaugurated camps. We had given the entire data of that to the ministry. The ministry has the utilization certificates, audited accounts for the camps, pictures of the camps, lists of people who have been given implements. Sadly, and I cannot explain this just now, sadly all this material does not seem to have been made available to CAG. The CAG has now categorically said if this material is available, obviously we will reverse our…
Karan Thapar: You are saying that all the proof and all the audited account including pictures, have been made available to the Social Justice Ministry but, as you put it, the ministry didn't make it available to the CAG?
Salman Khurshid: I can't say why and I can't say whether the CAG arrived there where these papers were available.
Karan Thapar: So is the ministry at fault?
Salman Khurshid: No no, it is not at fault. The CAG could have said, 'When will you expect these documents?' The CAG could have said, 'Tell us where the trust is and how does the trust communicate with you'.
Karan Thapar: Are you suggesting a failure of communication?
Salman Khurshid: No. I am saying that if the truth is not available with everybody, and certainly not available with the media, then somebody is to be blamed for it. I can't be blamed for it because..
Karan Thapar: And the ministry has the truth but hasn't given it to the CAG.
Salman Khurshid: They obviously couldn't have, at that time. They have the proof today. I am sure if the CAG wants it, they will be given the proof. But the good thing the CAG has done to us, has said to us is 'Why don't you give us that proof for us to revise our opinion?'
Karan Thapar: When did the CAG say this to you?
Salman Khurshid: Not to me, I was not here. My wife rang the CAG. And the CAG said 'On authority, you can say, you have spoken to me. This is only a provisional draft report on which you get opinion. You get evidence and then you get a final report.
Karan Thapar: I have heard what you have said about the CAG and the Social Justice Ministry, how in fact, the proof is available, but hasn't been made available to the CAG. However, all of this is contradicted by the second level of allegations made against you, this time, by Aaj Tak channel. Aaj Tak says that in at least 10 districts in Uttar Pradesh, may be more, your trust has in fact forged the signatures of senior officers and forged their stamps to claim that you held camps and that you distributed disability equipment to the handicapped. Now that is a direct refutation of the so-called proof you say lies with the ministry.
Salman Khurshid: Not at all. Not refutation proof. It is an opinion they have, an opinion that is based on a research they claim to have done. Now when I do my press conference, I will show what we have. Can I give you an example? They have said that there is a particular person who was in Mainpuri and Mainpuri camp…
Karan Thapar: You are talking about JB Singh?
Salman Khurshid: JB Singh, who now is in Lucknow… and that this is not JB Singh's signature. The matter is in fact more complex. We were given by the UP government an affidavit saying that JB Singh says that this is my signature.
Karan Thapar: The UP government gave you the affidavit?
Salman Khurshid: Yes, yes, yes. Let's move forward.
Karan Thapar: It is not an affidavit that you procured yourself?
Salman Khurshid: How can I procure an affidavit from an officer of the government? Only government can get affidavits from officers of government. There are officers who still have to give affidavits… when the UP government asks them, they will give. But please let's get this straight. As far as Aaj Tak is concerned, the affidavit is also forged.
Karan Thapar: Quite right. Aaj Tak has gone on record to say that the affidavit has a forged signature and is fraudulent.
Salman Khurshid: Now let's look at the next step. JB Singh and his picture at the press conference I will show today giving away those implements.
Karan Thapar: So in other words, what you are saying is although JB Singh is claiming the signature on the affidavit is not his, you have pictures of JB Singh giving away items on your behalf at the camps.
Salman Khurshid: Yes, yes. I can't show you those pictures.
Karan Thapar: Let us pause for a moment. I want to clarify the wealth of detail you have given me already or else this will be lost. Also since this is your explanation or justification, it is important we get it right. First of all, you are saying that Aaj Tak claimed that in at least 10 districts in UP, your trust forged signatures and
Salman Khurshid: Can I just correct you?
Karan Thapar: …used forged stamps is not correct.
Salman Khurshid: Do you think the Law Minister of this country, a person who has taught at Oxford is going to forge signatures? For what? Is anybody going to stand up and say if these signatures are not forged, we will leave journalism? I will say this. I will leave politics. Will someone leave journalism?
Karan Thapar: You are saying to me that if these signatures turn out to be forged, you will leave politics?
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely. But please understand what the question is. Who has been asked about these signatures? People who are in office now when the questions are being asked, people who were then when the signatures were made...
Karan Thapar: So the wrong people are being asked about the signatures.
Salman Khurshid: Why? Can we know why?
Karan Thapar: Let's just clarify this.
Salman Khurshid: First let me clarify something. Signatures have nothing to do with the camps. There is an independent, authentic evidence that camps were held. That's available with the ministry. That's available with me. Now as far as the signatures are concerned, we have asked the UP government to go to the bottom of these signatures. I can't today be asserting anything.
Karan Thapar: Let me just clarify what you have said because it is important, what you are saying is that the signatures that Aaj Tak alleges are forged, you say are not forged. Is that what you are saying?
Salman Khurshid: No no no, the signature that Aaj Tak alleges are forged are not the signatures that they know are of the persons who signed them.
Karan Thapar: You mean Aaj Tak is actually confused?
Salman Khurshid: Aaj Tak is not just confused. Aaj Tak is doing a deliberate hit for some reason. Why they have been persuaded to do so, and Aaj Tak has repeatedly said it's a sting. This is not a sting. It is a paper interview.
Karan Thapar: The wealth of detail that you are giving is confusing. I want to try and clarify it.
Salman Khurshid: Karan, if you want to pause, take it step by step. I am saying, let's not go into the details. All camps were held. No money was spent on those camps. The money was given to us by the government of India. The list of those camps, the people who organise those camps, pictures of those camps, are all with the ministry.
Karan Thapar: Now let us come to the signatures. Are the signatures that Aaj Tak claims are forged, forged? Give me a yes or no.
Salman Khurshid: My answer is, please understand, they have asked the wrong person whether this is his signature. They have to ask the guy who signed. If you ask the guy who signed, he will say this is my signature.
Karan Thapar: What about the case of JB Singh? Aaj Tak claims that an affidavit given by your wife to them to refute their allegations is in fact, forged. Now what will be your explanation?
Salman Khurshid: I have no explanation. This is the affidavit copy which was given to us by the viklang office of UP. We gave it to Aaj Tak.
Karan Thapar: If there is a problem there, the UP government must answer and not Salman Khurshid or Louise Khurshid.
Salman Khurshid: How can I answer? If I go and ask somebody for a copy of a document that they are collecting for purposes of their own exercise, and I am giving a copy of that document, how will I be responsible for it. And the important thing is that nothing turns on it, because this affidavit does not, for the first time, create a story that JB Singh was...
Karan Thapar: Let's leave that for the other people to decide. The important thing that you are saying to is that the affidavit you procured by you, your wife or your trust was given to you by the UP government. Therefore, the signature of JB Singh on that affidavit turns out to be forged or fraudulent. So, the UP government must answer, not you because they procured the signature.
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Let's then come to the story on the front page of the 'The Times of India' that the letter on the basis of which the Social Justice Ministry released last year in 2011 another Rs 68 lakh to your trust was forged. They say that in fact, the signature of the man on the letter is a man who retired from the office two months before the letter was written.
Salman Khurshid: Okay and who did he write to?
Karan Thapar: Presumably to the central government.
Salman Khurshid: Then if he wrote to the central government then it is between him and the central government.
Karan Thapar: But he is recommending a grant to your trust. The implication is that your trust got that letter signed by a person who was no longer in the office.
Salman Khurshid: There is no implication. How can a person who is no longer in office send a letter to a government? Because government letters go from government offices to government offices. So, how do I know what somebody is writing from one government office to the other government office.
Karan Thapar: The implication, although it is not stated in the article of 'The Times of India', is that your trust deliberately manipulated the wrong man to sign the letter to get a recommendation for more money, I mean the second 68.
Salman Khurshid: It's an implication. How can I send a letter on behalf of the trust or at the initiative of the trust to the central government, which does not come from an office? The central government and the UP office on viklang are in touch on a daily basis.
Karan Thapar: So, once again you are saying that the explanation for this letter with the signature of the man who has already retired must come from the UP government and not you?
Salman Khurshid: Which is why we have asked them for an enquiry and they said they will hold an enquiry.
Karan Thapar: Are you conveniently passing the buck on these two instances to the UP government rather than accepting this responsibility yourself?
Salman Khurshid: No. If I had sent that letter then you could have asked me but if the letter comes on the behalf of the UP government, why are you going to ask me?
Karan Thapar: Alright. Explain this to me. Aaj Tak also says that they have discovered that the Social Justice Ministry had been made aware of all the allegations and complains against your trust and they had asked you for explanations which you have not given and further more the further grants to your trust have been suspended.
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely not. They said to us why don't you apply for grants this year and we said no, we must not unless and until this matter for the last two years get cleared.
Karan Thapar: So, the Social Justice Ministry asked you to apply for the current year?
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: So, the claim made by Aaj Tak that in fact further grants have been suspended
Salman Khurshid: Where is Aaj Tak? Why doesn't Aaj Tak go and ask the Secretary? Where do they get such information from?
Karan Thapar: Aaj Tak also says that in January this year the UP government had opened an inquiry against your trust.
Salman Khurshid: We have a letter to the UP government saying please hold an inquiry and UP government has given us a letter saying on your asking we are holding an inquiry. How can I go further and tell you what the UP government is doing?
Karan Thapar: On your behest, the UP government is holding an inquiry?
Salman Khurshid: The Chief Minister's Office has written to us saying we are holding an inquiry at your behest.
Karan Thapar: The time that India Today said that in fact on July 2 the Chief Minister of UP asked the economic offences wing of his government to investigate your trust.
Salman Khurshid: Why investigate the trust? Now, let me just go back to the story that India Today starts with, that Aaj Tak starts with. They say that the Government of India has asked for a huge inquiry in all the NGOs of UP to see that the NGOs are not diverting funds. Where is that story? Where is that inquiry?
Karan Thapar: Let's not get deflected.
Salman Khurshid: No, we are not getting deflected. There is no running away. I am here, you are here. At the end of the day, you will have to come and say that I apologise that even asked you those questions because we will prove everything right. But let me first tell you, it's important, this is time for you to hear me. Why did Aroon Purie, 24 hours before they carried the story on their television channel saying that I and Louise were personally responsible for this, write a letter saying I hold Salman high in esteem and wish there were more people like him in politics?
Karan Thapar: Are you suggesting duplicity?
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. You are so smart, you can figure it all out. And why does he say that you have done a commendable job? Perhaps people under you (Aroon Purie) were not keeping you informed of what they were doing?
Karan Thapar: Are you saying he is two-faced?
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. Since you people come at judgments on everything, why don't you arrive at a judgment on this?
Karan Thapar: Let me wrap up this section by asking this to you that given that there is an enquiry against your trust, given that 'The Times of India' reports that in fact your trust reported to the economic offences wing of the UP government, are you under suspicion?
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. You decide. I leave it on my leadership to decide, it's for you to decide and you can put people under suspicion in this manner. I could say things about Aaj Tak, that would put them under suspicion, does that mean we should cancel their license? This is for us to decide. This is not something that you have a right to question and this is not something to which I will give you an answer. But this is for us to decide what is appropriate, what is the right thing to do and what is strategically the best thing to do, we will decide ourselves.
Karan Thapar: Are you really saying that in your own case where you are an accused, you can be a judge of what you do?
Salman Khurshid: I have not been accused, please get it right. I have not been accused, nobody has said that I was party to any decision, nobody has said that I signed the document, nobody has said that I am involved in the daily functioning of the trust as far as the project is concerned but yes I am saying that my wife is involved and I as a person, as a human being take responsibility for a wife who is extremely supportive of me and to whom I owe a lot in my career.
Karan Thapar: Let's now come to the political implications of the very serious allegations you face. Arvind Kejriwal is demanding that you be arrested, that your wife be arrested. He is also demanding that you resign.
Salman Khurshid: Yeah, but he has also asked 15 other ministers to resign.
Karan Thapar: Yes, but these are specific charges, in a sense supported by a CAG report, in a sense supported by 'The Times of India'.
Salman Khurshid: Are you saying that the 15 ministers that he accused earlier, there were no specific charges?
Karan Thapar: He has gone considerably further in your case.
Salman Khurshid: They go considerably further in my case. How do we know in the next one won't be further than this one and the next one won't be further than that.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. The charges who face are extremely serious.
Salman Khurshid: Karan, let me ask you. You want me to resign? I will resign on your channel. Do you want me to resign? I will resign on your channel. But Karan, the time has come for all of you to be careful about what you do. Time has come for India to do what Lord Leveson is doing with Murdoch (News of The World scandal) in the UK. Time has come for you also to begin to answer questions.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. The charges you face are extremely serious. He has raised questions of moral and financial turpitude. Would you consider stepping aside temporarily so that…
Salman Khurshid: I asked you, you haven't given me an answer. I asked you if you want me to resign on your channel and you haven't given me an answer.
Karan Thapar: It is not for me to answer. It is for you to answer.
Salman Khurshid: Since, you are answering everything. You answer this as well.
Karan Thapar: The decision is yours not mine. You will not do what I will tell you to do. If I ask you to resign, will you resign?
Salman Khurshid: If you ask me to resign, I will resign if you will give me a bond that on my resignation if I prove you wrong, you will give up journalism. Give me that bond Karan and I will resign.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. If you are so confident that nothing wrong has happened and that you have been vilified and targeted, why not then say that you agree to an independent inquiry.
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely. We asked for an independent inquiry. Who do you want an independent inquiry from – the CAG? We went to the CAG, asked the CAG to hold an independent inquiry but please with a caveat that at the end of the inquiry they can't just simply say that nothing went wrong.
Karan Thapar: Let me repeat this. You have agreed to an independent inquiry?
Salman Khurshid: I am nobody to agree. I am saying I am willing and I agree that there should be an inquiry but an inquiry is not to be held by Salman Khurshid saying so, an inquiry is to be held when an appropriate authority in the government ordered it.
Karan Thapar: Would you be happy for someone say Justice Katju or another eminent individual perhaps the Chief Justice of India to appoint an inquiry and appoint the people who will conduct it?
Salman Khurshid: I will not stand to oppose an inquiry but the inquiry will have to include India Today.
Karan Thapar: In other words, you want an inquiry which includes the people who made the allegations.
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely. An inquiry that holds them and they must also be clear that they are ready and willing to take the rap that comes at the end of the inquiry.
Karan Thapar: Salman Khurshid my last question to you. Today, are you battling to save your political career?
Salman Khurshid: No. I am today battling to save this country.
Karan Thapar: Will you be a Minister still a week from now?
Salman Khurshid: I don't know. Why should I know that? I didn't know last week, I didn't know a month ago.
Karan Thapar: That's is very uncertain than a confirmation.
Salman Khurshid: Don't worry about uncertainty. Just leave it to us. I have a battle to fight for this country. I will fight the battle. The hoodlums in the streets are not going to tell us what to do. We will fight this battle but we will fight it with decency, we will fight it with integrity and we will fight it with authority.
Karan Thapar: Today at 3 o'clock you are going to address the country by way of a press conference. National press will be there, national televisions will be there. Are you confident that the case you are present will exonerate you and will make people turn around and say Salman and Louise are being targeted?
Salman Khurshid: No. If I have been able to convince you perhaps I will convince the others. You don't look by your face that you have been convinced because if you get convinced your story gets over. So, the story will have to continue and you have to continue saying that you have not been convinced.
Karan Thapar: In other words, journalistic skepticism will keep the story going even if you have got good proof.
Salman Khurshid: Absolutely, till you wait for the next story.
Karan Thapar: In other words, then you also become a victim of journalism?
Salman Khurshid: Well, I have already said that. I have said that the inquiry should include journalism as well. Too much freelancing and too much free writing is what I think must come to an end. I'll make an offer to you. I am willing that an inquiry but I am also inviting you to call Mr Aroon Purie, let him sit in front of me and I will talk about what he has been doing and let him talk about what I am doing.
Karan Thapar: You will appear on a television programme jointly with Aroon Purie?
Salman Khurshid: Yes. That is my open offer. Any time and any where.
Karan Thapar: I'll see if Aroon Purie agrees. In the meantime, a very thank you for answering my questions.