Chief Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas has indeed become an albatross around the UPA’s neck. The due process of law might see him acquitted or discharged of allegations of corruption. But that wouldn’t wash the taint on his appointment. He was made the anti-corruption watchdog despite being charge sheeted in an oil import case that caused loss of money to the State exchequer in Kerala.
There is no dearth of people in Kerala who believe that Thomas is a victim of circumstances; that he’d get a clean chit sooner than later on initiation of trial in the lower court. But the issue under debate isn’t any more about his complicity or innocence in the oil scandal. It is about the legitimacy of his appointment.
On this count, the Government doesn’t have a leg to stand on. One must await word from the Apex Court on whether or not his elevation as CVC was vitiated? But in popular perception, the decision is held in abysmally low esteem. At the receiving end of the opprobrium are the PM and his Home Minister who ignored Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj’s dissent to confirm Thomas’s appointment.
If the Court rules against the appointment, the CVC would have to quit and face the graft case— the two having been de-linked by the Apex Court Judges. But can the government cut its losses by showing Thomas the door?
Not really. The procedure for the CVC’s removal is lengthy and could prove to be deeply embarrassing for the government. Section 6 of the CVC Act entails a presidential reference for a SC inquiry, pending which the CVC can be suspended or prohibited from attending office. He can be removed only on receipt of the SC report.
A much easier way out is the incumbent’s voluntary resignation. But Thomas has thus far refused to oblige despite serious efforts by UPA emissaries. As of now, there are two possibilities:
1) If the SC finds the appointment vitiated, it can hold it null and void. That would oust Thomas without resignation;
2) The court trying him in the oil import case finds him guilty, setting thereby the stage for his resignation or dismissal.
As per the CVC Act, the President can by order remove the CVC or any Vigilance Commissioner if he “has been convicted of an offence which, in the opinion of the Central Government, involves moral turpitude…” But many senior civil servants believe that Thomas stood a good chance of being acquitted or discharged in the oil import case.
With Thomas refusing to quit — as that would amount to admission of guilt— the government is caught in a web of its own making. Count with that the huge public attention on the case in poll-headed Kerala— where the embattled CVC’s stock is high not merely among his clansmen, the influential Syrian Christians but other communities as well.
In some ways, la affaire Thomas is reminiscent of Karnataka’s Yeddy story where the latter draws strengths from the backing of the Lingayat elite.