In politics, like cricket, timing is an art form only a few can practice to perfection. And as in cricket, a mistimed shot or comment can do immense damage.
For the Congress party that is now trying to take the lead in fighting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), former Law Minister Kapil Sibals statement that States cannot refuse to implement the CAA would fall in such a category.
To make matters worse, Mr. Sibal was joined by fellow Congressman Salman Khurshid in stating that the States will have to obey the law if the Supreme Court does not intervene.
Mr. Sibal clarified that he believed the granting of citizenship on the basis of religion was unconstitutional and that the fight must go on. But if politics is about perception, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won this round.
Leaders of the ruling party, who usually dont spare an opportunity to attack Mr. Sibal for his zero loss comment on the presumptive loss figures in 2G spectrum allocation, or for representing a Muslim party in the Ram Janambhoomi title dispute in one hearing, were now citing his legal acumen.
To be fair, neither Mr. Sibal nor Mr. Khurshid have said anything that can be challenged on facts. Without getting into too many technical details, it is worth pointing out that several Articles in our Constitution make it clear that a Central law prevails over State law in the case of a conflict between laws enacted by the Parliament and the State Assemblies.
In the case of Central subjects, or the Union List, Parliaments authority is supreme. And citizenship is a Central subject.
The only role that a State government will play would be to conduct police verification of applicants as Law and Order is a State subject.
This concern was raised by another Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who pointed out that the issue is tricky.
Mr. Ramesh, of course, is among those political leaders who have moved the the Supreme Court to challenge the new citizenship law.
Given the Constitutional scheme of things, all the Congress leaders are right in their assertion that the States may have limited options if the top court does not intervene or if they [the States] dont want to challenge the Constitutional scheme of things.
But the issue is far beyond the technicalities of law it is one of politics. It is about challenging the BJPs dominance and projecting Opposition-ruled States like Kerala and Punjab as pockets of resistance with their passing of anti-CAA resolutions in their Assemblies.
Idea of India
It is also offering leadership to an alternative approach to politics and, as the Congress puts it, their idea of India.
Upset with the out-of-turn comments, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi instructed her party to issue a fresh statement.
On Sunday, Congress communications chief, Randeep Surjewala, another lawyer by training, asserted that State governments had a special right under Article 131 to challenge any Central law, and States have approached the courts before.
But these legal technicalities are of minor consequence as the ruling party, which has been facing sustained pressure against the citizenship law for over a month, now has comments from Congress leaders to blunt any attack by the Opposition.