In May 2014, millions of Indians heaved a collective sigh of relief after dislodging a bunch of thieves from the seat of power in New Delhi. Now, after a year and the 42 mysterious deaths of people who were either accused or suspects or investigators in the Madhya Pradesh VYAPAM scandal, we cannot but feel we threw away the thieves only to elect a bunch of ruthless robbers to rule us. Please don’t accept or reject this rather strong view off-hand, but allow me to take you on a short journey along the bare facts of the case, which I have gleaned mainly from the online edition of the DNA newspaper dated 2 July 2015.
VYAPAM (an acronym for the Madhya Pradesh Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal, aka MP Professional Examination Board) conducts recruitment exams for posts like sub-inspectors of police, typists, and for departments such as Agriculture, Women and Child Development, Jail, etc. It also conducts the Pre-Medical, Pre-Engineering, and other entrance tests for government colleges.
VYAPAM has been facing accusations of fraud since 2009, but the big revelation came in June 2013 when a racket that helped many examinees pass their pre-medical tests came to light. The fraudsters employed a range of modus operandi from exams being taken by impersonators (called “scorers” – this is a scam so vast that it had to invent its own lingo!), to answer scripts being written outside the exam hall, to final marks being tampered in the computers at the board headquarters.
For example, VYAPAM's Assistant Programmer CK Mishra, System Analyst Nitin Mahindra and his associate Ajay Sen, who were arrested at first, allegedly used to change original mark-sheets to get some examinees passed. Many documents including computer hard disks were seized from VYAPAM at the time of their arrest.
As the dots were joined, names of big businessmen as well as prominent politicians came up. Investigation based on the data obtained from the hard disks reveal that many candidates who appeared in the examinations had the backing of influential politicians. It involved names like the former CM Uma Bharti as well as lots of administrative officers. During his interrogation, Mahindra revealed that many students had been backed by the state's former education minister Laxmikant Sharma. Sharma was arrested and is still in jail.
It's the only scam in the history of India where close to 2000 accused have been taken into custody and yet, the hunt is far from over. These arrests mostly include students, parents, and some middlemen. Several news reports indicate that what has been uncovered so far reveals only the tip of the iceberg and masterminds behind the scam are out and trying to derail the investigations.
VYAPAM is being investigated by a Special Task Force (STF) under the supervision of a Special Investigation Team formed by the MP High Court. So far the proceedings by the STF don't seem promising, as all deaths of witnesses, suspects or accused have been categorised as NATURAL. As many as 42 PEOPLE connected to the case, most of them young and healthy, died either in accidents, or after a twenty-four hour illness, or “liver infections”, or simply committed suicide.
SIT Chief Chandresh Bhushan has reportedly admitted that over 40 deaths related to VYAPAM have taken place. Of these, 25 deaths related to cases that the SIT is probing. He reportedly said the possibility of murder cannot be ruled out in these 25 cases, and that these will be probed and a full report submitted to the High Court.
But the state government has called the deaths natural. An, ex-CM and current Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Babulal Gaur recently said, rather philosophically, "All the deaths are natural deaths. Whether in jail or in a rail, everyone has to die someday".
Cases under VYAPAM scam date back to 2009. BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003. Their arch rivals, the Congress Party, past masters in corruption themselves, have asked ten questions to the MP Chief Minister. Since they are acknowledged experts in this business, let’s take their questions seriously. Here is a sample:
“The Vyapam scam was of a huge magnitude, wherein the future of 76 lakh was blocked, naked corruption took place, naked bribery was taking place, scorers were being appointed, papers were being changed. How could such a mammoth corruption scam be carried on without the complicity and knowledge of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan?
“An FIR in the Vyapam case was lodged on a close aide of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the then Technical Education Minister Laxmikant Sharma in 2013. After six months, he was arrested. CM’s former personal secretary Premchand Prasad too was arrested, but released on bail later. Will the Chief Minister explain why and how his close aides are involved in the matter?
“Shivraj Singh Chouhan … was the Medical Education Minister between December 2008 to March 2012 (sic). So why should the investigation … exclude the Chief Minister?
There is little doubt that loud proclamations notwithstanding, the present BJP government is as corrupt as the previous Congress government. The difference between the two can be brought out only by an earthy Bengali idiom: they are two sides of the same shit!
And returning to my original proposition, they present government is perhaps run by better organised and more ruthless criminals. How else can you explain scores of people being “bumped off” to protect the real crooks behind the VYAPAM scam safely hidden behind?
Tuesday, 07 July 2015