After having appointed Mr. P. J. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the Congress-led UPA is finding itself caught in a web, but of its own making. Its strenuous efforts to seek a safe passage BY making him ‘voluntarily’ resign to save itself of further embarrassment in the Supreme Court of India and the eyes of the public seem, so far, to have boomeranged. Mr. Thomas has refused to oblige the government.
That the Congress supremo Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh continued to ignore, deliberately, what Mr. A. Raja was doing in the ministry of telecommunications is understandable. For them the continuance and stability of their government was more precious than the `1.76 lakh crore loot of the public exchequer. They could not afford to annoy DMK to which Mr. Raja belonged because UPA is subsisting on the life-saving support extended by this party.
But intriguing is the way the Congress and Prime Minister put their foot down insisting on the selection of Mr. Thomas to the constitutional office of CVC even in the face of fierce opposition by the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, the third important member of the 3-member collegium besides the Prime Minister and Home Minister (HM).
Mrs. Swaraj had based her opposition to Thomas selection not on political considerations but on his past service record. Mr. Thomas was the Secretary Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under Mr. Raja when the infamous 2G spectrum allotment scam took place.
A chargesheet under section 120B of the Indian Penal Code accusing him of criminal conspiracy in the Kerala palmolein import scam in 1991 is pending in court. There seems another connection. Congress-led UDF government was ruling in Kerala when this scam happened.
The government, in all fairness, certainly needed an individual with an impeccable record of integrity, honesty and fairness who outshone all other individuals as an outstanding civil servant to be saddled with the onerous responsibility of ensuring probity and honesty in government and public life as the country’s anti-corruption watchdog. Should a person occupy such an important position on whom people could raise a finger on his conduct?
Overrules own rules
It seems the Congress had already made up its mind to put Mr. Thomas on the job much before the process of selection was formally set in motion. Therefore, the whole exercise seems to have been designed to achieve the desired objective.
The first step in this direction was the subversion of the 2000 guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) -- interestingly, in consultation with the then Chief Vigilance Commission which Mr. Thomas was to head following his selection -- through its Office Memorandum (OM) that the vigilance clearance to an officer of the All-India Service “shall not be withheld unless chargesheet has been filed in a court by investigating agency in a criminal case and the case is pending”.
Therefore, as per the DoPT guidelines Mr. Thomas’s was a fit case to withhold the vigilance clearance. Since the DoPT is under the charge of the Prime Minister, no such clearance could have been issued without his consent, particularly when it is in violation of the Department’s own guidelines. Had the PMO withheld the “vigilance clearance” his name could not have figured in the panel of names under consideration for the post of CVC.
Since a 3-member committee with PM, HM and Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha as members makes the selection of an individual for CVC, it clearly means that there must be a consensus in the matter. It cannot be done through a system of voting in which the government enjoys a clear 2:1 majority. If the opinion of the third member, the LoP doesn’t carry any value, then what is the fun of having he/she on the committee?
That the UPA government chose to treat with contempt the dissent of Mrs. Sushma Swaraj clearly indicates that the government had already taken a decision and what it wanted was only the nod of the Opposition leader for a person whom they had already selected. But this she did not for valid reasons substantiated with documentary evidence.
Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had suggested that the committee take into consideration the other names in the panel. But both PM and HM put their foot down and did not budge and wanted only Thomas on the post.
This unusual and dictatorial conduct of the PM and HM gives rise to the suspicion that there was somebody pushing Thomas case from behind and the PM-HM duo could have no courage to defy the whim, wish and diktat of that person.
The reports circulating in the media for a number of days that Mr. Thomas was going to put in his papers to save the UPA of embarrassment it is facing in the Supreme Court, did not come out true. Now there is a twist in the media reports according to which Mr. Thomas may haggle for the UPA government to deny permission to prosecute him under the Prevention of Corruption Act on the specious framed up plea that “the case against Thomas was in any way weak and formal denial of sanction was not out of place”. A case of the executive standing judgement on a crime and evading a judicial verdict!
The deal may be through. Mr. Thomas stands to gain in either case. He will escape the adverse SC verdict and save the UPA government from further embarrassment.
Writer is the National Convener of BJP Literature and Publication Cell