Congress’s corruption calamities continue as the Thomas saga unravels
In a season of corruption charges that have shackled India’s ruling Congress party’s political ambitions, the ongoing saga of the country’s tainted anti-corruption chief is perhaps the hardest to believe.
The curious case of P.J. Thomas, the accused fraudster appointed to head India’s corruption investigation agency by the Prime Minister last October, took another twist on Monday to further undermine Manmohan Singh’s party’s ability to tackle graft that threatens to become the overriding legacy of its current term.
In a fillip for the already emboldened opposition, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said on Monday that the three-man selection committee headed by the Prime Minister that appointed Thomas to the role of Chief Vigilance Commissioner was aware of the pending fraud case against him ‚Äď but made the appointment regardless.
“We did discuss the names of the panel. In fact, the bulk of the time (of discussion) was regarding P.J. Thomas and the Palmolein case,‚ÄĚ Chidambaram told reporters on Monday.
Chidambaram’s statement comes just days after G.E. Vahanvati, the country’s Attorney General, testified to the Supreme Court that the selection panel was not made aware of the charges relating to a 1991 fraud case surrounding the import of edible oils when Thomas was a minister in a state government during the appointment discussions.
The bizarre about-face from the government vindicates the stand taken by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj last Thursday.
Swaraj had said that as the third member of the panel, alongside Singh and Chidambaram, she had personally raised Thomas’ pending criminal charges, and that Vahanvati’s court testimony was an ‚Äúabsolute lie.‚ÄĚ
The Attorney General later clarified that he had testified regarding “the papers and the file pertaining to the Palmolein case pending against Mr. Thomas,” rather than whether or not the case had been spoken about in the appointment committee.
While Congress may well argue that the devil is in the details, semantics are unlikely to comfort those who feel a man under fraud investigations should not have been considered, never mind appointed, to run the country’s anti-corruption agency.
As the embarrassing tale unwinds to the detriment of Congress’ political fortunes, Thomas is adamant to the last. “I am still the Central Vigilance Commissioner. The matter is in court. So no comments,” he said defiantly on Monday.
Until that changes, Congress’s winter to forget looks set to drag on and on.