The fear which was haunting the Central government after all, turned into a reality. A bench of the Supreme Court comprising three judges and presided over by Chief Justice S H Kapadia, quashed the appointment of CVC P J Thomas declaring it as illegal, thus giving a strong jolt to the Prime Minister.

This decision by a bench of judges headed by a Chief Justice who is dead against corruption has questioned the Central government’s integrity and has put down the Prime Minister’s esteem as he headed the high-powered three member committee which selected Thomas a CVC. The other two members of the panel were Home Minister P Chidambaram and leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. When the three-member panel was considering the name of Thomas, Swaraj had not only opposed the decision but also submitted her disagreement in writing. Nevertheless, he was selected.

After his selection, former Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh and a few others filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the appointment. The petition argued that Thomas was been named in the Palmolein scam and that a chargesheet against him was pending in a Thiruvanantapuram court.

Thomas, an IAS officer from Kerala cadre, was dragged in the Palmolein scam in 1992, then he was the Food Secretary. He was accused of causing a loss of Rs 2 crore to the state by deciding to import palmolein without having proper tender notification. He got a bail in this case, but the chargesheet remained pending. Due to this, many times in between 2000-2004, the Personnel Department advocated for disciplinary action against him but it was not pursued by the concerned department. Eventually, this case turned out to be his undoing and led the Supreme Court to make him ineligible for the post of CVC quashing out the decision of the panel which had already appointed him.

According to the Apex Court, for the selection of an officer to a constitutional body like the CVC, he not only has to have a clean image but honesty must also be unambiguous. The Apex Court also made it clear that when the prestige of an institution is at stake, then public interest should be the only criterion. The court, on one hand, rebuked the panel-led by the Prime Minister and declared Thomas as unfit for the CVC post. On the other hand, it also fixed many plans of action in this regard for the future.    

After the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Central government as well as the Prime Minister found stuck in a horrendous situation as now the Opposition could become more aggressive. The Opposition was already coaxing the government on the 2G spectrum scam and the black money issue.

Though the government agreed for the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the 2G spectrum scam, it cannot be ignored that the process of formation of JPC made a mockery of the government. The government could have saved its prestige a bit in the CVC case if it had accepted its mistake on time. Unfortunately, it was adamant on its stand that the appointment of Thomas as CVC was correct.  To push its point further, it issued an affidavit which stated that Thomas had a clean image and no one could point fingers at him being CVC.

The fallout was that Thomas himself approached the Supreme Court putting forward a strange argument that when convicted MPs and MLAs could continue in their offices then why he couldn't retain the post of CVC? The Central government defending Thomas faced further humiliation when others came to know that the high-powered committee which has selected Thomas was aware of the pending chargesheet against him. The Home Minister himself was compelled to accept this fact. He admitted that during the selection of Thomas, the involvement of Thomas in the pending palmolein import case was discussed but no one could clearly explain why despite this discussion the objections raised by Sushma Swaraj were dismissed?

The Prime Minister says that he accepts his responsibility in the context of the appointment of Thomas. The Prime Minister, however, will give a detailed speech in Parliament later, but from his statement in the media it is evident that he is accepting his mistake and will not to do anything which will stir up a clash between the executive, legislature and judiciary. It should be noted here that he has earlier pointed out that the judiciary should not interfere in legislative matters.

During the hearing in the case of Thomas also the Central government has mentioned that the judiciary has no right to intervene in the selection process of the CVC. Under such circumstances, the short speech of acceptance by the Prime Minister is a good luck sign.   

No matter in what way or language the Prime Minister presents his content and that of his government’s, after the Supreme Court’s decision on Thomas case it has become clear that the Apex Court is once again raring to show its activeness under the leadership of S H Kapadia.
Even before this, the Supreme Court has enacted such judicial alertness. But in the recent past, particularly during the tenure of former Chief Justice Balakrishnan, such alertness was not seen. Whatever is the reason behind this, but it cannot be a mere coincidence that now, even Balakrishnan is surrounded by charges and allegations. Presently, in his case also the Central government has been maintaining a complete silence.

Now that the Prime Minister has accepted his fault in the case of Thomas, it will be congruous for the Opposition to put a full stop in this case. But with this, it is also utterly crucial that the Prime Minister gives a thought to the fact that how did he commit such a mistake, first in the case of Raja and then again in the case of Thomas? Was he under some kind of compulsion to appoint Thomas as CVC or was he sidelined by the political pundits of the Congress party? Is it that the Congress strategists are ruling over the Central government? It is not hidden from the public that the Congress, in reality is being controlled by a political group. It will be good if the Congress workers also analyse why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have become laughing stocks during the UPA-II regime.

It will not be easy for the Congress-led Central government to wash away the blots on it. It is to be seen whether the Congress makes a genuine effort to wash off these spots or it will just pose falsely and try to get rid of them? If the Congress limits itself to appointing new spokespersons to increase team of debaters who could go on air, then it will signify that the party does not care about its prestige.  

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on March 6, 2011 translated by the English Editorial)