India Insight

Congress’s corruption calamities continue as the Thomas saga unravels

January 31, 2011

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.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during a news conference after a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) interior ministers meeting in Islamabad June 26, 2010 REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

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 – 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,” 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 “absolute lie.”

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.

Comments
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i think tey should make findings and all the reports including the wealth of all the investigating officers post and pre investigation public along with its progress cos there is no trust and respect for any officials reputation proposed to be involved in the investigation along with the current govt. Infact the current telecom minister says that there have been an advantage to the telecom sector and it hads been the fastest growing sector in india … i would not agree as that only reflects the growth story of india and not the good governence of the current govt. Also i donno why shy away from the JPC that opposition has proposed. Apart from that the telco minister says that the findings in the current CAG repeot in terms of figures was misfortunate , why?, just because it shows the scale of the loss to the nation which could have repaired a major chunk of the deficit that this country is facing. On top of it as a cover up operatilon for the losses telcos have to now pay for the additional spectrum anticipating a further hike in tarrifs …thats a good joke isnt it first get bribed and allocate spectrum and then increase the prices of it so that it works a cover up for the losses

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