P.J. Thomas has been sworn in as the central vigilance commissioner. Now he will oversee the working of the Central Bureau of Investigation, which had till recently investigated the massive 2-G spectrum sale scam of an estimated rupees sixty thousand crore in the Telecom department where he was secretary until a week ago. Also, only last month, he had sought the Law ministry’s opinion on his view that neither the Comptroller and Auditor General, nor the CBI, could question the policy decisions taken by his department. It is a bit too much even for the patently amoral UPA II to ignore the obvious conflict of interest inherent in Thomas taking charge of the Central Vigilance Commission. Why should Manmohan Singh, generally believed – rightly or wrongly – to be an honest person, so brazenly disregard the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj’s objection to Thomas’ selection that he did not fulfil the most important selection criterion of having impeccable integrity? In fact, she was quite game to either of the other two persons on the panel being picked up for the post.
It is common knowledge that the prime minister did not want A. Raja, who had brought so much ignominy and shame to the UPA I government, in the UPA II cabinet but had to surrender to the demands of the so-called coalition dharma. And now to secure Raja from all sides, against all hostile investigations and inquiries, his puppeteer, Karunanidhi, thought of getting Thomas appointed as the country’s chief conscience keeper. With Thomas’s term of four years set to outlast the UPA II’s remaining life, Raja’s well-being was sought to be ensured for this period. Manmoan Singh, as usual, was no match to the master strategist in Chennai.
Whatever mercenary objectives Karunanidhi might have had, if Singh had a spine and had shown that he had one, he would have gone with Swaraj to select some one other than Thomas as the CVC. The skies would not have fallen at this; after a few tantrums, not immediately but at an opportune moment on some populist matter, a statement would ensue from the southern metropolis that the DMK was considering withdrawing from the central cabinet and lending an issue-based support to the government from the outside. But after a few air dashes to Chennai by a couple of central ministers to pay court to him, the patriarch would have relented. After all, the DMK is not going to sacrifice the power and pelf due to an important part of the central government so easily, particularly when there are almost four years to go to the end of the term. It is just that Manmohan Singh blinked first, as he does so often. In his more than six years as the appointed prime minister he has come into his own only once while pushing the US-India civil nuclear deal through.
Lastly, however, it would be less than fair to the ruling Congress if it is not given the credit its due. It is not just to keep an important ally in good humour that Thomas has been appointed as the CVC. The Congress for its very own reasons too loves bureaucrats with tainted reputation, the more tainted the reputation the better, occupying positions of statutory regulators or watchdogs of various types. Such bureaucrats of less than impeccable integrity prove willing accomplices and are an asset to the ruling party in that they unquestioningly do its bidding, are extremely reverential to the royal household and speak only what their masters want to hear.