Badly rattled by a series of scams and the Opposition’s relentless demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into the infamous 2G spectrum affaire, the Manmohan Singh-led Central government seems to have lost its moorings. There is no other way one could make sense of a statement made by its principal law officer, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, in the Supreme Court today. Replying to the bench’s observation that the Central Vigilance Commissioner should be a person with an absolutely untainted record and that the appointment of P.J. Thomas, who had been charge-sheeted in the Palmolein scandal, to this office may not have been in order on this very count, Vahanvati said that had a blemish-less record been a crucial criterion for appointment, many appointments to the judiciary could also be questioned. His retort was not only in bad taste but also revealed the government’s determination to ridicule all, including the land’s highest court, who have the temerity to question its judgment.
What the court had said was unexceptional. The Central Vigilance Commissioner is the chief conscience keeper of the government, by exercising continuous vigilance he is supposed to ensure that the bureaucracy plays strictly according to the rules and it is his to institute enquiry against the offenders. If he himself has been on the wrong side of law and service rules, what moral force can he bring to his position? But this government appears to have sacrificed all ethics and morals at the altar of expediency.
It is not just the matter of selection of an undeserving person for the high post, the way the government made a mockery of the laid down selection procedure is more damaging. A board comprising the prime minister, the Home minister and the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha had to select a person with impeccable integrity from a panel of three retired bureaucrats chosen by the government. When the prime minister and his Cabinet colleague showed their preference for P.J. Thomas, the leader of Oppositon, Sushma Swaraj, drew their attention to serious charges in the past against him and wanted them to pick up either of the remaining two who had much cleaner records. But It remained two against one and Swaraj had to settle for noting her dissent. It is a no brainer that the prime minister and his Home minister would always align and together they will have their say if a simple majority is going to decide on the selection, what then is the great point in having the leader of Opposition on the selection board? The Supreme Court should also dwell on this and rule that the Central Vigilance Commissioner has to be the unanimous choice of the three members on the selection board.