Vigilance certainly seems to have been the casualty in the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas as facts now reveal. It is passing strange that his role in the palmolein import case in Kerala for which the state sought sanction to prosecute from the Centre did not find mention in the facts before the selection committee. The case was a high-profile one of corruption and any association with it could not have passed unnoticed when appointing a high constitutional authority like the CVC.
The government's fond hope that Mr Thomas will do the right thing and conveniently go away seems misplaced with the beleaguered officer digging in his heels and proclaiming his innocence. It now appears that he might wait for the Supreme Court to take up the issue again on February 3. Whatever the outcome of the court proceedings, the damage to a government already on the ropes has been immense. Even more worrying is the manner in which the Congress party that heads the government is trying to wash its hands off the case by contending this is outside the purview of political parties. It is ironic that corruption has come to touch even the top corruption watchdog, a turn of events which can further undermine public confidence in these once inviolable institutions. Stories of back channel negotiations with officials and members of his family to get Mr Thomas to go quietly does even less credit to the government. Surely, this is not the way in which procedure should be conducted in this high office.
The question which will now be asked is whether those in government who seem to have pushed Mr Thomas's case, superseding at least one officer we now learn, thought that facts about his record would not come to light. Were there no other less controversial contenders for this post? Instead of attempting a clumsy cover-up, it would be best if the government were to lay its cards on the table and admit to lapses, if any. This comes at a time when corruption features in almost every sphere of life from fuel adulteration to land scams to the spectrum controversy. Irrespective of whether Mr Thomas is culpable in the allegations against him, this mess has certainly diminished the gravitas of his office. There are some tough questions to be answered and even tougher decisions to be made. But any hope that by dragging things along, this issue will fade away is misplaced. If nothing, people are more vigilant on allegations of official misconduct than ever before. And they are not likely to drop their guard in a hurry.