Friday, March 4, 2011

Curious Case of PJ Thomas - Role of Media and Judiciary

It is not often that one feels empathy towards a person who has just been shown doors from a public office by judiciary. But surprisingly in my eyes the standing of PJ Thomas has only gone up!

I strongly feel that Mr Thomas is a victim more than a wrongdoer. Our Judiciary and Media have failed to give justice to him.

Palmolein case has been there for a long time now. Being a Keralite, one cannot escape the ups and downs of this case through the political changes that happened in Kerala. It was a case brought out to target Mr Karunakaran. The case got impetus both from within Congress Party (those were the days of aggressive groups in Kerala) and from the opposition. Subsequently, with changed equations in the Congress Party the case was sought to be squashed but the ‘then crusader against corruption in public life’ and current CM VS Achuthanandan took personal interest to keep the pot boiling.

The case however did not proceed to trial as the Supreme Court granted a stay on the same on a plea from Mr Karunakaran. Supreme Court, for reasons best known to itself, obliged Karunakaran till his death, by not lifting the stay!

Thomas was the last in the list of eight accused in the case but never been a target of any parties for his alleged role in this case that took place in 1991-92. He continued to move up in his career, and occupied very sensitive positions that include Chief Secretary of Kerala, Secretary Parliamentary Affairs and Secretary, Telecom Ministry at the Centre. Those governments that placed confidence in Thomas included Left, NDA as well as UPA. Further, in the words of Home Minister Chidambaram, “no sanction for his prosecution was granted by the NDA government from December, 1999 to May, 2004 and by the UPA government subsequently”. Previous CVCs also have cleared him for sensitive appointments.

During this long period of his career, Thomas has not been subjected to any other allegations. The only slur that was thrown at him, subsequent to the Palmolein case, was his stand on 2G investigations by CAG, based on a matter of policy. Even those who blame Thomas for that stand admit his stellar role in the highly successful auction of 2G spectrum.

It is an enigma why the Government chose to appoint Thomas as CVC. CVC is a post with highest sensitivity and it would have been commonsense that the appointment will come under scrutiny of various agencies including media, especially after the Opposition Leader has recorded her dissent in the selection committee. Government owes the Nation an explanation as to why it decided to go ahead with the appointment that had the potential to blow up into an embarrassing controversy.

The appointment was questioned in Supreme Court. Media, with the increased attention towards corruption in public life took up the case as well. Thomas was made to look like a criminal! The embarrassing questions flew back and forth and the Government and its crisis managers sought to find the way out through resignation of Thomas. However, Thomas did not oblige both the Government and the Media. He stood his ground and decided to challenge the petition.

It would have been easy for him to give in to the demand of Government and resign. He could have cut deals with political class and got rehabilitated in some or other position away from scrutiny. Instead, if he has chosen to fight it out it can be only due to the self confidence arising out of conviction in own impeccable integrity and a deep desire not to leave as a tainted man.

Now Supreme Court while annulling his appointment as CVC was forced to admit that its decision is not casting any aspersion on the personal integrity of Thomas. SC chose to annul the appointment on ground which has nothing to do with Thomas per se, i.e., integrity of the institution and non application of mind by the selection committee. This judgement, in my opinion has vindicated Thomas’s stand.

In this country, where every person is considered as an innocent until proven guilty, our media and section of society were too fast in condemning Thomas. Even after the Supreme Court’s order which took pains to state that the order is not an aspersion on integrity of Thomas, I was pained to hear the Anchor and reporters of TimesNow repeatedly addressing Thomas as ‘tainted Thomas’. That too without sharing with viewers for any inside information that they may have about his culpability that even Supreme Court failed to notice!

Thomas is an accused in a case which is yet to be tried. Let him be tried and if fund guilty, be punished. To indulge in character assassination of a person merely on the ground that Government of the day chose to appoint him to a post and that he is an accused in a pending case is criminal and I hope the lawyers of Mr Thomas take note of such things and proceed appropriately. Our Media and its righteous anchors must learn to respect the rights of their subjects.

While deciding the case and examining the processes followed by the executive, I wonder why Supreme Court did not consider it necessary to review the judicial process followed in the Palmolein case so far. What caused the delay in trial for such a long period? Was all decisions by various Courts including long stays on trial given judiciously or for any external considerations? All these points would have led to improvement in the judicial process at least in the future.

Or is it that our Judiciary and Media are beyond all scrutiny and accountability?!

1 comment:

  1. I have to disagree here. SC has made it amply clear in its judgement that it has *not* gone into the merits or otherwise of the palmolein case. The pertinent point is simply this - how can you appoint someone as the topmost anti-graft watchdog who himself has corruption cases pending against him? The defence put forward by Mr Thomas - that more than 1/3rd of current MPs are proclaimed offenders - was laughable. Two wrongs dont make a right and the SC did the correct thing in throwing both that defence and Mr Thomas out.