THINGS are never straight forward in India, particularly in politics, which is itself a crooked business. In the case of PJ Thomas, there are so many kinks you do not know whether you are coming or going. Just when you thought the matter was over and the goose was cooked, Thomas has announced that he is going to the Supreme Court, the same Court – though not perhaps the same bench – that had declared his appointment illegal.
Those of us who believed that Thomas’ appointment was a simple affair had no idea that, apart from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, there were also others involved in the deal, at least from the government side. They were all very quiet and did not raise their heads when the scandal hit the roof. But things are now slowly coming into the open, though so far we have seen only the tip of the iceberg.
In fact, the appointment was more like a conspiracy, rather than a simple selection process. There were other people involved, including a man who used to be Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and who had apparently played a crucial part in the process, and who has now been shunted off to a state as its Chief Minister.
This man, Prithviraj Chavan, had been silent so far. He spoke up only when Manmohan Singh referred to him – not by name, but by designation – when he (Singh) made his statement in the Parliament. Why did Singh forget to mention Chavan’s name? Singh said that Chavan had prepared the list, but it did not mention Thomas’ brush with law in another case. Now it turns out – according to Chavan – that Kerala government, not Chavan, had prepared the note or provided details, and all he had done was to place it before the three-man committee, persumably after brushing it up. The Kerala Chief Minister has said that Chavan is lying – a strong charge against a man who happens to be a State Chief Minister – to which the latter (Chavan) had no reply.
So we now have five people involved in the affair, instead of the original three who were supposed to do the selection. But that is not all. According to LK Advani, the Thomas affair had been brewing for a long time. When he was opposition leader, he had a meeting with Manmohan, and then Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who raised the issue of making Thomas CVC. Objections had been raised at the time, and in fact Prithviraj Chavan had apparently tried to persuade Advani to give his assent.
So, instead of five people, we now have seven, including Shivraj Patil. Three may be a crowd, but seven is definitely a conspiracy. It means that Manmohan Singh and Chavan had been at it for quite some time, button, holing people all the while in favour of Thomas. And Manmohan Singh had also been in the picture for quite some time, sometimes alone, sometimes along with Chavan, and may be before that, with Shivraj Patil. The question is, why were all these people so keen on Thomas? Who was behind the conspiracy? And why did Singh act so coy in the Parliament, giving the impression that all he did was to attend the selection committee meeting on September 3, and had no hand in anything before that?
In fact, the conspiracy went farther. It turns out that, while the selection meeting was going on, Chavan was sitting in a room next to the selection panel’s room where the panel was discussing Thomas’ selection. It is also clear that Chavan was not only the man who prepared the paperwork for the meeting but was actively canvassing – and had been actively canvassing – on behalf of Thomas for quite some time. And our good friend Manmohan Singh, such an honest and modest man, was helping him. It is quite possible that all the Congressmen involved were working according to a plan under the guidance of the Prime Minister himself, though this is not the impression he gave in his statement in the Parliament. The man is obviously being economical with the truth – but why?
Then there is Chidambaram. You will have noticed that Chidambaram, who is ordinarily a very valuable person, has been unusually quiet in this case, so quiet that you have not heard his voice even once, quite an unusual thing for a man like him. He was, after all, one of the three members of the selection committee, quite an active member, in fact, according to rumours, but seems to have clammed up when things started going horribly wrong. It is obvious that he has been asked to keep his mouth shut, in case he provokes the opposition, and also the media, which he has a habit to do. Chidambaram’s silence is so eloquent that it tells us much more than Manmohan Singh’s halting statement in the Parliament.
Unfortunately, the opposition does not seem have played its cards well. It was unusually silent before the PM’s statement, and after it, and let the PM go after a sort of an apology, which was not really an apology. Probably it had its own reasons for its kid- gloved treatment of the episode, but it was certainly less than vigorous in its attack on the main government players in the shabby drama.
In fact, I fear that the way the Thomas episode has petered out, despite the fact that so many seniors were involved, does not augur well for the other scams. I have a feeling that the JPC on the 2-G spectrum scam will also go the same way and even Raja will go scot-free. Then there is the Hasan Ali case of money laundering which may also go the same way. The man is now in jail. The Commonwealth Game scandal is already a goner, for the man supposed to be behind it, is also in jail now. About other scams, the less said the better.
The Congress seems to have a special department to handle scams. When they attract too much notice, put one or two people behind bars, and say that the law is taking its course. If necessary, ask the PM or some such official to make a statement in the Parliament. Wait for a month or two, until people forget the matter, and close the file. This is a standard procedure to deal with scams and it never fails to work!