It’s shocking but not surprising that most of us know way more about Lalit-gate than we do about the Vyapam scam. Shocking because Lalit-gate, at least to the best of available knowledge, has not left behind a trail of mysterious deaths the way Vyapam has. But it’s not surprising because the spectacle of the rich and powerful screwing over other rich and powerful always garners more TRPs than an examination scandal in Madhya Pradesh even though that affects thousands of candidates. It actually affects the state’s very future since those entrance examinations determine who will be Madhya Pradesh’s doctors, bank probationers, food safety inspectors, teachers and police constables.

But #Vyapamscam does not rock Twitter the way #Lalitgate does.

It was the after the death of journalist Akshay Singh (left) and college dean Arun Sharma that media focus shifted to the Vyapam scam. Image Courtesy: DDNews

It was the after the death of journalist Akshay Singh (left) and college dean Arun Sharma that media focus shifted to the Vyapam scam. Image Courtesy: DDNews

Mukul Kesavan in a hard-hitting opinion piece for The Telegraph cites one possible reason for that. Vyapam, he writes, “has a reasonable claim to being the most sinister word in contemporary journalism” but he says the metro-obsessed news media has kept Vyapam an inside-page story. “I can’t see 40 deaths linked to a single scandal in Delhi being treated as indifferently as the Vyapam deaths have been,” writes Kesavan.

The indifference stems from many other reasons. The Vyapam scam implicates so many bureaucrats and politicians that everyone is afraid where the trail will lead. If it singes the BJP’s powerful chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on one end, it leads to the doorstep of the UPA-appointed MP governor Naresh Yadav on the other. It is difficult to even gauge how deep the rot goes. And having seen that viral photograph of “well-wishers” scaling the walls of a school to pass cheat-sheets to candidates at a 10th standard board examination in Bihar, we are cynical about rigged examinations anyway.

Lalit-gate is a simpler story that’s easier to sell on the evening news. A rich and powerful businessman cultivates politicians and when push comes to shove, they appear to help each out. And Lalit himself sitting safely in London lobs missiles as his erstwhile BFFs to keep the wheels spinning. In Madhya Pradesh, however, whistleblowers wonder if they are next on the “natural death” curse list. Anand Rai, who filed the PIL about the scam, says contract killers were hired to kill him. When he approached the court for security cover, he was told to cough up Rs 50,000 per month for police protection. Now, in retrospect, Rai’s fears do not seem overblown at all.

Lalit-gate also has the advantage that it’s chock-a-block with the names of the rich and famous, perfect for the outrage factory that is evening television. Vasundhara Raje, Sushma Swaraj, Robert Vadra, Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram. That’s a multi-starrer cast that’s bound to spell box-office bonanza. In Vyapam, the biggest name is Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Even the state governor’s son’s Shailesh Yadav, accused of fixing the recruitment of some Grade III teachers, being found dead from a brain hemorrhage was not enough to rivet media attention. The death roll of Vyapam features a trainee sub-inspector, an assistant veterinary officer, a pharmacist, a college dean, a student. It’s the death of a journalist, who began foaming at the mouth, that seems to have tipped the media balance. Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Ravi Shankar Prasad all attended the cremation of Akshay Singh, finally giving the Vyapam Scam national gravitas.

But that is not surprising. We are so name-obsessed as a culture that our media will be filled with headlines about Hema Malini being injured in a car accident relegating the death of the child as an unhappy footnote in a subhead. It’s understandable that Hema Malini is the newsmaker here. But it is also possible to say “Hema Malini injured in car accident, child killed” or “Five-year-old girl killed in accident, actor-MP Hema Malini injured”.

In a way, Vyapam is a story as much about media failure as it is about a colossal scam involving government, bureaucracy, college deans, students and their guardians. Those involved with Vyapam behave with as much impunity as they did because they knew Dilli door ast and for the media, this was just a regional story about recruitment examinations in a central Indian state. In one word – boring. That it took some 40 deaths for the story to really gather steam is a slap on the face of investigative media in this country. We are chasing playboy fugitives for interviews in Montenegro (interviews which he eventually declines to give) while a scandal of these proportions unravels in our own backyard under our noses.

Given our indifference to this story, is it any surprise that Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Babulal Gaur airily and philosophically opines, “Death is natural… be it in the jail or on rail, one who has been born will die” while dismissing calls for a CBI investigation? Recently, even more callously minister Kailash Vijayvargiya joked, “Forget that journalist who died. Is he more important than I am?” Now Vijayvargiya is indignantly saying he was quoted “out of context” and “I was only joking and my sentiments are hurt.”

Vyapam has affected the futures of thousands and thousands of people in Madhya Pradesh. Dozens involved with the story have died from different causes in what is, at best, a freakish coincidence. And a minister is upset about his “hurt feelings”. What better example can there be about our skewed sense of priorities?

What is even more scary is wondering how many other Vyapams are happening as we speak that no one is bothered about. And no Anand Rai is filing a PIL. When Kesavan writes “Vyapam is the terminal rot in desi governance made frighteningly visible,” he’s not talking about just Madhya Pradesh. But are we listening?

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Vyapam deaths not sensational enough? Flashbulbs of Lalit-gate have left media blind