The BJP is claiming a virtue out of necessity.
After refusing for months to hand over the Vyapam scam to the CBI, chief minister Shivraj Chouhan and his colleagues are now saying they are relieved the Supreme Court has asked the agency to step in. “The learned Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi clearly enunciated before the Supreme Court the state government’s stand that it desires a CBI probe. It must be pointed out that the government had already approached the high court with a similar request. The apex court has accepted it and also appreciated the AG’s stand,” BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli told PTI.
Did Chouhan have any other option? Two days ago, when the apex court decided to hear petitions for handing over the case to the CBI, Chouhan’s hand was forced. To preempt the embarrasment of being directed by the SC to give up his obduracy, Chouhan had to hurriedly request the high court to seek the CBI’s intervention.
The decision will now take some pressure off Chouhan and the BJP. If the Opposition attacks him further, he can always claim that the CBI is investigating the case and everybody should wait for the outcome, which, considering its scale and magnitude, will take months, if not years.
So, the Vyapam ghost is off Chouhan’s shoulders for some time. We will feel some of its tremors in the Monsoon session of Parliament, but after that it will be business as usual.
What happens ultimately will depend on how the CBI handles some of the key questions related to the scam. Here are the top answers that will decide Chouhan’s fate.
Who is the kingpin of the racket?
Most of the people arrested in connection with the scam so far are students, parents and middlemen who gave and accepted money for securing admissions through the Professional Examintion Board, known by its Hindi acronym Vyapam.
The only politician of some significance arrested so far is former education minister Lakshmikant Sharma. But Sharma has been unusually quiet during his interrogation by the special task force officers. He has not told investigators about how the entire racket functioned, who were its real beneficiaries and mastermind.
The STF has allowed Sharma to get away with silence and cryptic replies, without making any effort to make him spill the beans on his collabarators and protectors.
The Congress has claimed that the scam trail goes right up to the CM’s house and office. It has alleged the involvement of Chouhan’s relatives and alleged they were in constant touch with Sharma through phone and text messages.
Chouhan and the BJP have denied all this. They have called the phone records produced by Congress bogus and called an excel sheet, which reportedly contains the names of the scam’s beneficiaries, fake.
It will be the CBI’s job to make Sharma talk and separate truth from allegations and explanations.
Why have there been so many deaths?
At least two dozen people connected with the probe have died under suspicious circumstances. Some of them have been attributed to sudden illness, mainly heart attack, or suicide. But, as this Hindustan Times report points out, not one suicide note was found by cops. “…10 Vyapam-related deaths were dubbed suicide even though none of them left a suicide note, revealing another intriguing gap in the investigations already facing accusations of wrong arrests and tampered post-mortem reports. Besides, there are allegations that in the cases where foul play was alleged police termed the deaths as suicide without conducting an autopsy.”
Namrata Damor’s death was called suicide even when the autopsy pointed at murder; Jabalpur medical college dean DK Sakalle died of unexplained burn injuries, another accused had injury marks even though his death was attributed to suicide by hanging; and a key witness fell off (or was thrown out) a moving bus and died.
The CBI will have to find a suitable explanation for all these ‘unexplained’ suicides and sudden deaths.
What was the role of the Sangh Parivar?
The Congress has alleged that the scam had its genesis in the Chouhan government’s efforts to accommodate RSS workers and their families in medical colleges and state services. Several important Sangh leaders allegedly benefitted from it and top-functionaries recommended candidates for admission and recruitment.
In 2014, former RSS chief KS Sudarshan’s name was also dragged into the controversy when it was alleged that he had recommended the name of a member of his personal staff for a government job. This was promptly denied by the government and the STF as hearsay. But doubts have persisted. The CBI will have a tough task de-linking Nagpur from the scam.
Did the governor, judiciary and bureaucrats benefit from Vyapam?
MP governor Ramnaresh Yadav was named as an accused in the scam; his son is among those charged with accepting money in the Raj Bhawan for recommending recruitments and admissions.
The trail turned cold when Yadav’s son died mysteriously and the high court quashed the FIR against the government citing constitutional immunity. Now that the governor’s continuation in office appears difficult (the SC has sent a notice to Yadav on the issue of the FIR against him), the CBI may get a chance to investigate the case against him.
The governor has access to several government files, he can seek any information, appoint and transfer officials. Potentially, he can share a lot of information about MP bureaucrats and the judiciary, whose roles have come under scrutiny because of allegations by whistleblowers.
The CBI has a lot to question; the Chouhan government has a lot to answer. Till more facts emerge, the BJP can continue claiming victory in a moral and political setback.