On slippery wicket

On slippery wicket

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s acceptance of responsibility for the selection of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, which the supreme court has struck down, falls short of a full and meaningful sense of responsibility. The prime minister had, in his written statement in the Lok Sabha on Monday, failed to go beyond a sketchy account of the selection process but later admitted that there was an error of judgement on his part and he accepted responsibility for it. But he has not convincingly explained the error. There was procedural error as well as failure on the substantive issue of judging the eligibility of Thomas for the post. The supreme court has criticised the government on both the counts. The prime minister should have made the government’s response clearer.

An error of judgment usually means a wrong appreciation of facts or a situation. What were  the facts that were before the prime minister which he misjudged? The government, through attorney general G E Vahanvati, had told the court that the fact of the existence of a charge-sheet against P J Thomas in the palmolein import case was not presented before the selection committee. This was only technically correct. In any case the question arises why no action has since been taken by the government  against those who failed to present all the facts  before the committee. Acceptance of responsibility is not complete if it does not lead to enforcement of accountability.

The prime minister also told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that he came to know of the charges against Thomas only when the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj mentioned them at the selection committee meeting. That shows he and the home minister ignored  the case against Thomas even after they came to be aware of the case. That amounts to more than an error of judgment. The prime minister should clarify why the charges were not considered serious enough to reject Thomas’ candidature. This should mean a full disclosure of the circumstances of  the selection, which is still lacking.  The issue of accountability is relevant here also. A general acceptance of responsibility without going into the specifics of the making of a wrong decision is not very helpful. An admission of mistake is meaningful only when there is a convincing explanation of how the mistake was committed.

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