India Insight

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.

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.

Has the judiciary been a let-down?

A view of the Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi December 7, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesA former Chief Minister of Karnataka sparked off a controversy in the 1990s by comparing the country’s legislative, executive, judiciary and the fourth estate to four pall-bearers of India’s democracy.

Many would have disagreed with the cynicism the comments displayed, especially regarding the judiciary.

An activist judiciary in the 90s was seen as the moving force behind a range of public-service initiatives.

Statutes and statues: Mayawati gets Supreme Court nod for sprawling memorial park

Every powerful politician deliberates their legacy. For Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state and one of the country’s most recognizable politicians, hers will be set in stone.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stone statues, to be precise.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati releases a manifesto, which she termed an "appeal", for the upcoming general elections during a news conference in the northern Indian city of Lucknow March 20, 2009. India will hold a general election between April 16 and May 13, election officials said on March 2, kicking off a mammoth process in which 714 million people will be able to cast their votes.  REUTERS/Pawan Kumar
Ridiculed by some quarters of the media for her seemingly exorbitant narcissism, she was granted the right to continue construction of a 34-acre memorial park by the Supreme Court on Friday, after staring down mounting criticism over the size of the so-called ‘memorial’ budget from the coffers of one of India’s poorest and least developed states.

Dubbed the “Untouchable Queen” for her success in championing the cause of Dalits, one of India’s former backward castes, and turning their support into numbers at the ballot box, Mayawati has ruled over India’s most populous state since sweeping to power in the 2007 elections.

Forget journalistic ethics. The Radia tapes have wider implications

British press magnate Lord Northcliffe once stated: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, attends the annual general meeting of Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai July 2, 2010 REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files
It’s interesting, then, that in a season of multi-billion dollar scandals that has seen India’s 24/7 news machine at its probing, questioning, investigative best, one — perhaps bigger and more serious than all the rest — has failed to make the hourly bulletins.

Taped conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, anonymously leaked from a reported set of around 5,000 recordings made by India’s Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities, appear to reveal the unholy nexus between India’s business leaders and the political policymaking machine.

But due to the embarrassing proximity that the Indian media elite have to the most controversial dialogues amongst her web of business, political and journalism sources, full-blown coverage has not been seen.

Is it time to end the death penalty in India?

Special Prosecuter Ujjwal Nikam holds up a document, with a cover showing Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, at Arthur Road Jail where Kasab's trial was held, in Mumbai May 6, 2010. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Suddenly, everyone in India is talking about executions.

Grim hangings are a topic of animated conversation at water coolers, cocktail parties and chat shows. Everyone seems to favour them, the quicker the better.

Just weeks ago, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was sentenced to death by hanging.

Everywhere in Mumbai, where 166 people were gunned down by Kasab and his accomplices, people cheered and fought to express their joy to newspapers and TV channels.

Moral brigade, media trials and law

In what is being seen as a significant judgement, India’s apex court recently dismissed all charges against south Indian actress Khushboo for her alleged remarks on pre-marital sex in a 2005 magazine interview.

KhushbooThe Supreme Court said her comments were her personal view and that she was entitled to express them.

Many in the country believe the verdict heralds a welcome but a difficult and slow change. Nevertheless, it reinforces our claim to democracy, secularism and above all freedom of speech and expression, of course with its riders.

INTERVIEW – Supreme Court lawyer on Khushboo case

Pinky Anand, counsel for actress Khushboo in the Supreme Court, spoke to Reuters about the case and how the verdict would have a far-reaching impact.

India’s ‘Watergate’ rocks ruling Congress coalition

The Congress-led government, under scrutiny in the wake of allegations of financial irregularities in a multi-billion cricketing tournament, has now come under fire from the opposition over accusations it tapped phones of senior leaders.

Women activists of India's Samajwadi Party shout slogans after being detained by police during a protest against rising inflation in Allahabad April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jitendra PrakashA united opposition demanded a joint parliamentary committee to look into these allegations, ruled out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is in Bhutan attending a summit of South Asian leaders.

Last week, a magazine report said mobile phone conversations of senior politicians were tapped, sparking allegations intelligence agencies were being used to spy on political rivals.

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