Saturday, March 5, 2011

PJ Thomas nearly quit in Dec, but chose to hang on

NEW DELHI: PJ Thomas could have escaped the ignominy of being sacked by the Supreme Court and spared the government a huge political embarrassment if he had heeded advice to quit. 

Months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram rode roughshod over Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj's resistance to put Thomas in the lead role at the anti-corruption watchdog, Congress leadership recognised that the CVC had turned into a political liability. 

Unfortunately for the government, the mild-mannered CVC suddenly became unyielding after initial indications that he would put in his papers. Negotiations with Thomas had progressed to the extent that his well-wishers had even sought advice on how to draft his resignation letter. He was to announce his resignation in the first week of December when the heat on UPA over corruption was growing. 

But all that was rendered irrelevant by Thomas's sudden refusal to go. He conveyed his resolve to the negotiators on December 4. Soon followed a defiant declaration that he was not going to follow the script written for him. 

Two theories have been put forward for the turnaround. According to one, Thomas changed his mind after a senior minister egged him on to stay put. The minister was concerned about loss of face. 

According to another theory, the about-turn was at the instance of Thomas's family members and close friends who warned him that quitting would taint him forever. A close relative is learnt to have told him that it could not be just his call as the matter concerned the reputation of the entire family. 

The episode is seen as yet another instance of the failure of the top babus in the regime. The set was supposed to have a leverage with Thomas — one of the reasons why Congress managers thought that they would be able to shake off what had become an albatross. But the estimate was belied, adding to the growing sense of resentment against the babus.

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