The murky Vyapam soap opera in Madhya Pradesh

The murky Vyapam soap opera in Madhya Pradesh

Mysterious deaths, inconsistent judicial pronouncements, melodrama and realpolitik have turned the Madhya Pradesh Profession Examination Board (MPPEB) scam saga into a soap opera which has kept the audience hooked for over two years. The Board is also known in Hindi as Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal or Vyapam.

The faction-ridden Congress has so far failed to pin down Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for his supposed role in the scam. It put up a united front to bring the issue alive before the budget session of the assembly by furnishing evidence to back its claim on Chouhan’s involvement. The Congress managed to lay its hands on the original excel sheet of the PEB results drawn from the hard disk of PEB examination controller Nitin Mohindra. The Congress claimed the excel sheet showed the chief minister having recommended the names of at least 48 candidates. The document was later tampered with to replace the chief minister’s name with that of senior leader Uma Bharti, the governor and some ministers.

A Congress delegation moved Prime Minister Narendra Modi against Chouhan’s refusal to hand over the probe to the CBI. The media speculated that Modi would oblige since Chouhan belonged to the L K Advani camp. Later, it was argued that since the scam also involves some senior functionaries of the RSS, Modi would not hand it to the CBI. But, there is a growing resentment within the party over its sullied image.

The controversial death of Shailesh, son of state governor Ram Naresh Yadav, brought the nation’s focus back on the sordid drama. Shailesh, an accused in the Vyapam scam, was evading interrogation by the Special Task Force (STF). The governor who is also named in the FIR filed by the STF was flown from the critical care unit of a hospital in Bhopal to attend the funeral in Lucknow.

Shailesh’s was the second death during the Vyapam investigations. Last year, the dean of NSCB Medical College, Jabalpur, Dr D K Sakalle, had immolated under mysterious circumstances after several students from his college were expelled for clearing the pre-medical test through unfair means.

In probably the first instance involving the first citizen of Madhya Pradesh, the STF named the 88-year-old Yadav in the FIR for allegedly influencing the recruitments of forest guards. Charges against him were filed under Section 420 (cheating) and Prevention of Corruption Act. Ironically, while the Congress is demanding the UPA appointee’s resignation, the state government is not so keen on it. The governor’s departure would lend substance to the Congress’ charges against Chouhan. The governor had recommended the names of five candidates for recruitment as forest guard to top PEB officials. The High Court will decide on April 14 whether the governor can be proceeded against while in office.

Though the High Court allowed filing of FIR against Yadav, it stayed his arrest after lawyer Ram Jethmalani argued against the governor being subjected to such ignominy. The former governor of Andhra Pradesh, N D Tewari, had also faced an FIR and was sacked before he could be arrested. The Centre which had sought his resignation after the filing of FIR, is also not pressing for it anymore.

Another judicial inconsistency was reflected in the High Court bridling the Special Investigation Team (SIT) which it had appointed to monitor the STF. After the Congress leaders approached the SIT to complain against the STF, the High Court warned the SIT against going out of its way to entertain complaints against STF.

Chouhan got another relief when the High Court allowed the STF four months’ extension to complete investigations. The Congress says the STF is, after all, the state government’s handmaid. It looks up to the chief minister for annual performance appraisals. So, how could it be expected to act against him?

By BJP’s own admission, the scam is the biggest blot on the party that has been in power for past 12 years. It is during the BJP rule that senior MPPEB officials colluded with organised syndicates, brokers, politicians, parents and students to manipulate the examinations and recruitment tests over several years to help those who paid bribes. Crores of rupees exchanged hands as recruitments were rigged and thousands of results were manipulated in the scam. More than 850 cases were registered against 720 students and parents.

Optical mark recognition

Regular MBBS students (called scorers) were engaged as fake candidates. Seating arrangements were fixed to ensure that the “scorer” sat next to the candidates who copied the answers. Another method employed was by leaving the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) sheets partially blank to be filled later at MPPEB.

Former minister for higher and technical education Laxmikant Sharma and his aide, mining baron and BJP’s key financier Sudhir Sharma, top MPPEB officials, Congress leader Sanjiv Saxena, MBBS doctors, an IPS officer, brokers, parents, students etc have been arrested so far. Others named in the FIR include the chief minister’s personal assistant Prem Prasad, former OSD (officer on special duty) to the governor Dhanraj Yadav (he secured anticipatory bail) and relatives of IAS and IPS officers.

Days after the Congress expose, the state government retaliated by digging out an old probe report to file an FIR against former chief minister Digvijay Singh and former assembly speaker Srinivas Tiwari for irregularities in appointments between 1993 and 2003.

The two were booked for alleged forgery, cheating and conspiracy and misuse of office under the PCA while 17 others, appointed in the Vidhan Sabha secretariat, were also booked. The moot point is even if Digvijay Singh and Tiwari are found guilty, how would that absolve Chouhan?

The Congress has failed to check the BJP’s electoral march under Chouhan while the BJP is flaunting the mandate as proof of the chief minister’s innocence. But the saga of Vyapam scam continues…

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bhopal)
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