Even as an embarrassed Congress distanced itself from the controversial issue of Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas on Friday, the United Progressive Alliance government found itself in a worsening situation.
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj has threatened to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court, challenging the government's assertion that it was not aware that Mr. Thomas had been chargesheeted in the Kerala palmolein import case at the time of his appointment as CVC.
Ms. Swaraj was on the high-power committee, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which finalised the appointment. She objected to Mr. Thomas' appointment but was overruled. The third member was Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
The UPA government, informed sources said, has been trying to persuade Mr. Thomas to quit on his own, but he has made it clear that he is in no mood to step down. For, he would lose his current immunity and also it would look as though he was guilty. It appears that both the government and the party have decided to leave the matter to the court.
On Friday, an exasperated Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed, responding to questions on the issue, said: “A daily running commentary on what has happened in the court is neither good for the judiciary nor for justice.”
Indeed, both Congress functionaries and Ministers have been at pains to describe the comments and questions raised by the court in the case as a “dialogue between the government and the court.”
The CVC cannot be sacked as his is a constitutional position. “The government can, of course, initiate proceedings to impeach him, but given that he has committed no wrong as CVC, that is not an option,” the sources said. The CVC, the sources added, wants to wait till February 3, when the court will take up the case again, before he makes his next move. Mr. Thomas reportedly sees himself as a victim of a political battle between the government and the Opposition.
The Congress, meanwhile, is trying to stay away from the issue. “Why are you asking the Congress? It is not a decision of the Congress,” Mr. Ahmed said.