Mystery deaths in MP

S. Madhusudhana Rao

If any film producer in Bollywood or Hollywood is planning to produce a horror film, there will not be a better story than the Madhya Pradesh exam-job recruitment scam. It has all the elements of a super thriller – crime, mysterious deaths, suspense, powerful politicians, corrupt officials and much more – and offers watchers a kaleidoscopic view of the murky side of depraved democracy. Meanwhile, before anybody ventures to bring the seemingly unending saga to the silver screen, we, newspaper readers and TV watchers, continue to get tit-bits of information whenever new facts emerge or persons involved in the case die in ways more puzzling than the scandal itself.

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

The latest victims were two accused: A 30-year-old veterinary officer Narendra Tomar and a 45-year-old doctor Rajendra Arya. While the former was found dead in Indore District Jail, allegedly after a heart attack, on Sunday, the latter is said to have died of a liver infection in a Gwalior hospital, also on the same day. By all accounts, Tomar’s death in custody was suspicious whereas Arya’s raises many questions. He was a medical college professor and allegedly involved in rigging admissions way back in 2008.

The twin deaths in a matter of 24 hours raise the toll in the mother of all exam/education scams to a record high of 43 (official toll 25), according to TOI. The dead included both witnesses and accused over a period of three years and the official response to these deaths in mysterious circumstances and suspicious ways is “they are natural.” Responding to a TV channel’s question, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Babulal Gaur has ruled out conspiracy behind deaths. “They were natural; they (those involved in different cases linked to the scam) may have died because of their own misdeeds,” the minister said.

Gaur’s approach to a situation that is turning suspicious with every death is facetious, to say the least. Nor has he committed himself to look into the matter in a more serious manner despite the fact that hundreds had been arrested and the pace of probe into MPPEB misdeeds is painfully slow.

The MP racket would not have gained notoriety but for its deadly episodes.  It all began in 2012 when the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), also known as Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam) had conducted tests and selected candidates for various government jobs, including colleges, and professional courses between 2012 and 2013. Following complaints of malpractices, the Indore police had swung into action and scratched what could be the surface of a multi-layered state-wide scam involving the high and the mighty.

Further investigations have revealed that various professional course exams and recruitment tests for various government departments had been rigged since 2008. In a nutshell, what it means is racketeers, swindlers, conmen of every shade had a sway over government jobs and admissions to professional colleges. According to reports, more than a thousand ineligible candidates got admissions in medical colleges during 2008-13 periods while thousands of suitable students were affected. Although the unfit students were debarred later, the rot had already set in. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

With the Vyapam scam investigation widening and the opposition parties stepping up their campaign against the BJP-ruled government in Madhya Pradesh, the probe was handed over to a Special Task Force of state police. To ensure STF’s proper working, it is being monitored by MP High Court through a Special Investigating Team. So far, about 1800 people have been arrested and a manhunt is on for another 800. These staggering numbers speak for themselves the scale of scam and the amount that had changed hands.

The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003 when the saffron party swept the Assembly polls. That means the officialdom and the ruling political class must have been in the know of recruitment and admissions scam. Or, at least, they must have had an inclination. Shivraj Singh Chauhan who has been the Chief Minister since 2005 and his predecessor and now Home Minister Babulal Gaur have so far adopted “let the law take its own course” approach to the raging allegations of a massive cover-up. The MP government has also rejected the Congress demand for a CBI probe into the Vyapam scandals insisting that the STF investigation is suffice.

Gaur’s outright refusal to seek a CBI probe and calling the latest deaths as natural has added fuel to Congress fire. The opposition party which has been on the warpath since Lalit Modi’s revelations about ‘friendly relations’ with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, has found another dagger to draw BJP blood in MP scandal.

Ever since the former IPL chief set the cat among the pigeons, Congress has stepped up its campaign against BJP in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular to break his silence on Lalit Modi’s allegations and links with Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje. Congress demands both of them should quit. If they don’t, Modi should sack hem.

Though Chauhan, as MP Chief Minister, is not under pressure to resign over the Vyapam scandal, his government can’t brush away the mysterious deaths of accused and witnesses linked to the scam. Either the government has to order a separate independent inquiry or accede to the demand of a CBI probe. If the Chauhan government fails to remove suspicions arising out of every scam-related death, it will only help strengthen the public perception that it is a cover-up.

The most glaring example is the death of Shailesh Yadav, son of MP Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, on March 25 this year. Naresh, allegedly involved in teachers’ recruitment, was found dead in his father’s residence in Bhopal.

The mystery continues as the MPPEB scandal has turned out to be a giant jigsaw puzzle.

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