Laxmikant Sharma, 52, was once so powerful that some even considered him a dark horse should an exigency call for the replacement of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He had the RSS’s favour, a connection that is seen as having got him portfolios from mining and higher & technical education to culture and public relations during the 10 years he was a minister under Chouhan, Babulal Gaur and Uma Bharti from 2003 and 2013.
The high-profile assignments also proved his undoing, first as mining minister when the Congress accused him of corruption, bringing up his close association with miner Sudhir Sharma who is now on the run and carries a reward on his head, and later as education minister.
Sporting a huge tika on his forehead, Laxmikant flaunted his religious credentials. He began as a priest in Sironj before taking up teaching in RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandir. When the Special Task Force reached his bungalow Sunday, he kept them waiting, saying he was praying and wished not to be disturbed. When he sensed arrest was inevitable, he insisted on carrying religious books.
The hard disk seized from a top official of Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, the body that conducts entrance examinations for educational courses and recruitment tests for government posts, had names of candidates whose names were allegedly recommended by the former minister.
He said he didn’t know how his name figured in the FIRs. He tried to pass the blame to his OSD O P Shukla, arrested weeks earlier with cash allegedly taken from candidates.
Though the FIRs were filed in December and the minister had lost in the assembly election, the STF had delayed his arrest. Twice he appeared for questioning but was allowed to go, leading to talk about his connections. After the arrest, he was quoted as having said that he was sacrificing himself to “save the big leaders” without naming them.
In his defence, his aides have pointed out that his own daughter failed the PMT that the scamsters supposedly helped others clear.
Former MPPEB controller of examinations Pankaj Trivedi was a regular visitor to Sharma’s bungalow and reportedly carried back lists of candidates. It had been at Sharma’s behest that Trivedi had got the key post.
The former minister had made Sudhir Sharma his OSD when he got the mining portfolio. Sudhir, once a teacher at an RSS school, went on to become a mining baron and reportedly owns a chopper and luxury cars.
Out of the 114 candidates, 74 of them have declared serious criminal cases against them.