The Original Sin
The Supreme Court of India delivered a severe blow to the government, particularly its top leadership including the prime minister, by setting aside the appointment of P J Thomas as CVC. The PM subsequently explained that the decision to appoint Thomas was his own – and not guided by coalition compulsion. The Congress party, at its highest levels, decided to appoint Thomas. Leader of opposition (LoP) Sushma Swaraj, who is a member of the high-powered committee that appoints CVC, had opposed Thomas. The PM and home minister – the other two members of the committee – overruled her objections.
The case went to SC and as we all know, the highest court has termed the appointment illegal. The SC, however, upheld the government’s right to vote out the LoP in the committee.
The SC’s assertion that it can carry out judicial review of government appointments can have far-reaching implications. The SC judgment is emphatic that it does not question the government’s authority to make appointments, but is only bothered about the legality of the appointment. But it is going to be difficult to keep such demarcation. Moreover, the SC has also gone in some details, outlining the procedure for appointing CVCs in future.
In a sense, the government brought this upon itself. The original sin is the government’s decision to push ahead with Thomas, even after Swaraj declared that anyone but Thomas was acceptable to her. That brings us to the question of the role of the LoP in the selection.
If the PM and HM choose to defeat the LoP through a 2-1 vote, what is the whole point of LoP being there in the committee? The purpose of the LoP being part of the committee to select the CVC, to my mind, is to ensure bipartisan support for the country’s corruption watchdog.
I therefore believe that regardless of Thomas’s qualifications or lack of it, the moment the LoP opposed his candidature the government must have withdrawn his name from the panel. Even if he was an angel, he should not have been made, as long as the LoP was not agreeing to his name. That would have avoided so much of embarrassment for itself. And would have denied the judiciary yet another opportunity put the government on the back foot.