Monday, March 7, 2011

The Pioneer :: Home : >> Thomas wipes out Manmohans sheen

The Pioneer :: Home : >> Thomas wipes out Manmohans sheen

Chandan Mitra

By arrogantly dismissing the spirit of consensus-building in appointing persons to critically important offices, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has brought misery upon himself

Now that Mr PJ Thomas has finally been removed from the post of Central Vigilance Commissioner, albeit kicking and screaming, the question must be asked why it needed a tough-talking judiciary to get him out of office. First, he should never have been chosen by the Government for this sensitive position, given the pendency of the palmolein case. Second, even if the Prime Minister and Home Minister jointly overruled the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Thomas should himself have stepped down once the heat mounted during arguments in the Supreme Court.

Apparently, the former Kerala Chief Secretary swears by his personal integrity and is outraged at being described as a man tainted by corruption. In the palmolein case too, the charge against him is not of personal aggrandisement but causing loss to the exchequer through an improper decision. Mr Thomas may well be squeaky clean in personal conduct. But when a person is appointed to an office of such importance, he cannot argue that the pending case against him is of no substantive consequence. As Central Vigilance Commissioner, tomorrow he might well have been called upon to pronounce a verdict in a similar matter involving someone else’s appointment to a high office. Could he be trusted to give an impartial and objective opinion?

Apart from this there is a political dimension to what has just transpired. Clearly, the Prime Minister’s stars are not well disposed towards him at present. His image as a man of impeccable integrity has been severely dented by a succession of scams. His claim of ignorance of scandals happening right under his nose or naïve faith in the goodness of his Ministers (such as A Raja, who Mr Singh believed would not do anything improper despite oodles of information that he was circumventing every rule to benefit his ‘clients’), or helplessness forced by pursuit of coalition dharma, is wearing thin. People have begun to ask what good is Mr Singh’s integrity if he turns a blind eye to a cabal of crooks and carpetbaggers who are busy brazenly looting the country? At this time, the Supreme Court’s indictment in a matter to which the Prime Minister is directly a party is bound to rob his image of whatever sheen it still retains.

Perceptions often matter more than facts in politics. And the Prime Minister seems to have entered a cul-de-sacfrom which he cannot get out. The Indian middle class did not buy the BJP’s argument in 2009 that Mr Singh was the weakest Prime Minister India ever had. In fact, the campaign proved somewhat counter-productive because many people disapproved of personal attacks on a man they thought was too decent and upright to deserve stinging criticism. But opinion is changing fast. Increasingly I find the chatterati volubly arguing that Mr Singh is too weak, too much under the high command’s thumb and too self-centred to steer the country effectively.

From being an asset he is on the way to becoming the Congress’s liability. Given his track record, I don’t see what the Prime Minister can do to salvage his image. It seems Ms Sonia Gandhi’s calculation that her son would romp to Race Course Road after the next election, riding on Mr Singh’s management skills, is ebbing faster than even her critics would have thought.