THE entire episode regarding the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, P J Thomas reeks of the Congress Party’s disparaging attitude towards integrity and indulgence for corruption at high places. The UPA has been ignoring law, sidestepping precedence and blatantly superseding seniors in several appointments to high offices. At will, the government has given multiple extensions to people, especially bureaucrats retiring from senior positions.
The UPA announced to the world its opinion and attitude to corruption when the Attorney General, GE Vahanvati speaking on behalf of the government stated in the Supreme Court that “impeccable integrity” was not an eligibility criterion for the post of Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Next sentence by him that, if impeccable integrity was the criteria for appointments, judicial appointments would fail to pass muster in one stroke seemed to suggest that the judiciary is not entirely honest. The judges chose to ignore the insinuation.
Thomas, till recently Secretary, Telecom, presided over the administration of the Department of Telecommunications during the yet unfolding 2G spectrum scam. Most of what is being investigated today and would be taken up in future would come to him for reference and possible action. In that sense, Thomas would be judging his own acts of omissions and commissions. Even before the spectrum scam broke out in such a huge way, the leader of the Opposition Smt Sushma Swaraj had opposed his appointment as Thomas had been charge-sheeted in a case in 2000, involving the import of palm oil. A charge-sheet had been filed against him, though the case has not been taken up, obviously under political pressure. The deal to import the edible oil, signed with a Singapore-based company is alleged to have cost the exchequer heavy.
The government even tried to use the media to spread the mischief that Smt Swaraj had not ‘recorded’ her opposition, while the truth is that she had given a written note of dissent. Any government with some level of moral commitment would have dropped Thomas’ name from the list. But the UPA went ahead with it and the Prime Minister was definitely party to it.
TV debaters ad nauseum have mentioned the adage that ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’ Well, there is a more familiar and closer home saying ‘Yatha raja tatha praja’ (as is the king so are the people). The king (the leader, in modern parlance) has been entrusted with the responsibility of upholding the moral values of the society. Sri Ram asked Ma Sita to undergo the agnipariksha, not because he had any doubts about her, but because he did not want suspicions to pop up in the minds of people. She, as the queen, had to be above board in the eyes of the people. Rama being the Maryada Purushottam had to lead by his actions, setting aside his personal emotions. The Supreme Court rightly pointed out that even for junior level promotions in government jobs, clean record on file is mandatory. So how can it be irrelevant at a level of CVC.
In both the spectrum scam and the appointment of CVC, in a way related issues, the Prime Minister had been in the know and chose to look the other way, not to take action or even indicate his displeasure. Though the politicians across parties are vying with each other giving conduct certificate to Dr Manmohan Singh, an SMS lampooning him is making the rounds, all over the country. The A Raja episode exposed the sad fact that it is no more the prerogative of the Prime Minister to appoint or remove ministers. Within the Congress Party the privilege rests with the lady at 10, Janpath and outside, the regional satraps call the shots.
The controversy surrounding Thomas’ appointment acted as a whistle blower on the government. Instead of the romping attitude it has displayed till now, the UPA would do well to listen to the voices of people and atone for its sins by admitting to wrong doing. It can make a fresh start on the issue by cancelling the appointment of the CVC and replace him with a man or woman of integrity. It is an essential eligibility quality, notwithstanding the views expressed by the AG, for not just the CVC but any job, especially in the government.