New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) Faced by an unrelenting opposition in parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday accepted “full responsibility” and admitted “an error of judgment” in choosing scam-tainted P.J. Thomas as the head of India’s anti-corruption watchdog.
Addressing the Lok Sabha, Manmohan Singh said he respected the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel the appointment of Thomas as the central vigilance commissioner.
Amid drama in the house, Manmohan Singh in his brief written statement initially didn’t use the phrase “full responsibility” on the appointment but was prodded to do that after the opposition MPs led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj raised a clamour.
The prime minister appointed Thomas last September despite his alleged role in a 1992 graft case related to palm oil imports from Malaysia.
As soon as the prime minister finished reading from a paper, Sushma Swaraj rose from her seat and said she was surprised at the differing statements Manmohan Singh had made on the issue in Jammu Friday and in the Lok Sabha Monday.
She said what the prime minister said in the Lok Sabha did not contain a single word of what he said in Jammu that made her tweet that the “chapter was closed”.
“I was expecting the same statement in the Lok Sabha. In Jammu, you said you accept the responsibility but today nothing like this came from you,” the BJP leader said.
Then the prime minister stood for the second time and said: “I have no hesitation in repeating what I said in Jammu. Obviously there has been an error of judgment and I accept the full responsibility.”
Congress MPs thumped their desks at this as the BJP leader was seen exchanging smiles with her colleagues.
Manmohan Singh also admitted that Sushma Swaraj, one of the three members on the high-powered panel that approved the appointment of Thomas, had given a “dissenting note” on the selection.
The prime minister and Home Minister P. Chidambaram were the other two members of the committee.
“In pursuance of the recommendations made by the committee, the president appointed P.J. Thomas as the CVC and he was sworn in,” he read from the statement.
He said two public interest litigation petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the appointment. “The Supreme Court declared the recommendation of the committee as non-est in law and quashed the appointment… We accept and respect the verdict of the Supreme Court.”
The government, he said, would take into consideration the guidelines and directions given by the court while appointing a new CVC.
While the statement quietened BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha, Left parties were unsatisfied. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharia wanted to make a statement but was disallowed following which Left MPs staged a walkout.
BJP members in the Rajya Sabha were not impressed by the prime minister’s admission, unlike their Lok Sabha colleagues.
Their leader S.S. Ahluwalia said: “In his statement, the prime minister read a calendar of events relating to appointment of the CVC. The leader of opposition reminded him of his remarks at a press conference in Jammu, after which he said that there had been an error of judgement and he takes responsibility.”
He said it remained to be seen how the prime minister took follow up action on the responsibility he talked about. “How he converts responsibility into accountability, we have to see.”
The BJP leader also denied there were differences between party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who is leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, on the line to be adopted on the prime minister’s statement.
“There is no difference of opinion between the leaders of opposition in the two houses,” he said.