Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan appears more and more vulnerable as Madhya Pradesh’s examination and recruitment scam gets wider and wider in scope. And that is not just because the opposition has been targeting him. The MP High Court is monitoring how his police are probing the scam. His own political bosses are closely following the investigations, bringing into play rivalries in the BJP. So is the RSS, which is so keen to clear its name that it is said to have okayed the arrest of a former minister considered its blue-eyed boy and known to have been close to Chouhan.
More than 300 arrests have been made in the year since the Indore police unearthed the scam, including that of former minister Laxmikant Sharma who flaunted his RSS links and was very close to Chouhan in his first term as chief minister. The FIR names other BJP and RSS leaders as well as a few officials in the Chief Minister’s Office.
At a time when he was celebrating the victories in the assembly and general elections, what has given Chouhan another cause for worry is the rivalries within the BJP. He is considered close to L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj, both part of the old BJP power centre rather than the new one around PM Narendra Modi.
Besides, a theory doing the rounds is that the RSS itself cleared the former minister’s arrest because it felt its name was being used to stall the probe. The probe has brought up the names of several RSS activists, including in connection with the government appointment, allegedly illegal, of an aide of a former sarsanghchalak. RSS member Dr Ajay Shankar Mehta, former vice-chairman of Jan Abhiyan Parishad that works as a bridge between NGOs and the state government, has been arrested, while mining businessman Sudhir Sharma, who began as a teacher in an RSS-school, is on the run.
Though the high court in April threw out a slew of petitions seeking a CBI probe, it decided suo motu to monitor the ongoing investigation by the Special Task Force, a state police agency. The former minister was arrested Sunday and the STF began a crackdown on students across the state Wednesday because it has to submit a status report soon.
Until recently, Chouhan used to credit the STF with doing an excellent job. Now, he prefers not to comment about it in public. “The law will take its course,’’ is Chouhan’s new refrain to queries about the scam.
Chouhan had a tough time last December when STF officials leaked his rival Uma Bharti’s name in the scam, before going on to give her a clean chit. This gave rise to conspiracy theories. A fuming Bharti, then an MLA from Uttar Pradesh, called it a plot to damage her. Now, even Laxmikant Sharma’s supporters have pointed an accusing finger at Chouhan, who was away in South Africa when the arrest was carried out.
The Congress points at the alleged involvement of Chouhan’s former private secretary Prem Prasad, and calls made between the accused and CMO officials. Leader of the Opposition Satyadev Katare has demanded a Supreme Court-monitored special investigation team, saying the STF is not likely to do an impartial job. “Chouhan can’t escape the blame because all key appointments were cleared by him,” said Katare.
Explained: When a ‘scorer’ sat next to the examinee
What does the scam involve?
Examinations and recruitment tests conducted by Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) over the last several years were manipulated to help those who had paid bribes. Top MPPEB officials colluded with organised syndicates, brokers, politicians, parents, and students.
How did it work?
MBBS students from neighbouring states (they were called “scorers”) would be engaged as impersonators for weak students from MP. Seating arrangements inside the hall would be adjusted to ensure that the “scorer” sat next to the student who copied the answers. Another way involved leaving the OMR sheets partially blank so that they could be filled later at MPPEB headquarters.
When did it come to light?
Indore Police stumbled upon it ahead of the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2013 and arrested more than a dozen students and “scorers”. Even private colleges were found involved. As the scam began unfolding, the investigation passed from Indore’s crime branch to the Special Task Force and is now being monitored by the high court.
Were other entrance exams and recruitment tests manipulated?
Yes. It began as a PMT scam but as investigations progressed, more than a dozen exams and recruitment tests for police constables, milk federation posts and contractual teachers came under the scanner.
Who have been arrested?
Former minister Laxmikant Sharma, who held the portfolio of higher and technical education, and his OSD; top MPPEB officials, including the then examination controller and chief system analyst; Congress leader Sanjiv Saxena; MBBS doctors; an IPS officer; brokers; parents; students.
Who else are named in the FIR?
Mining businessman Sudhir Sharma, the CM’s personal assistant Prem Prasad; former OSD to the governor Dhanraj Yadav (he has got anticipatory bail); relatives of IAS and IPS officers.
What have the political consequences been?
The scam did not affect the ruling BJP in the assembly or Lok sabha polls, although the Congress had tried to make an issue out of it.