What is Vyapam?

It is an acronym of Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal, the Hindi term for Madhya Pradesh’s Professional Examination Board (MPPEB).

What is the scandal about?

For many years, it is being alleged that undeserving candidates are being let into professional colleges and also given jobs — both of the state government. It has been alleged that relatively poor performers got through the screening process of MPPEB by bribing politicians and board officials, and also by paying commissions to touts.

Why is the scandal so big?

Because, first, no less than Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s wife Sadhna Singh was accused of being involved in it.

In the period 2008-13, the chief minister additionally held the portfolio that supervised Vyapam.

Lately, Governor Ram Naresh Yadav is being accused of complicity or connivance or both in the alleged scam.

How serious are the charges?

There may or may not be any truth to it. For one, Mrs Chouhan was alleged to have made calls and sent SMSs to push some candidates by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who has had a dubious record of hurling wild accusations against his political rivals — the BJP and RSS in particular. While Singh alleges that the chief minister’s wife got 17 of her relatives from Gondia jobs through the MPPEB, Chouhan says not a single candidate from Gondia got through.

The STF dismissed Mrs Singh’s call and SMS records as impermissible evidence since they were “illegally procured”.

Yadav’s son was an accused who died. The governor’s officer on special duty (OSD) Dhanraj Yadav was arrested in 2013 in relation to the scam.

What is the basis of Digivijaya Singh’s accusation?

An IT expert Prashant Pandey employed by the STF was accused of passing on insider information from the police team to the accused and blackmailing them using the findings. Once he was arrested, he went out on bail and approached the Congress leader, complaining that the police were trying to shield the chief minister who appears to be culpable to him because of an Excel sheet he claims to have been laid his hands on. The police were tampering with the sheet extracted from the computer of accused Nitin Mahendra, Pandey alleged to Singh. The Excel sheet is an important tool in the hands of the law enforcement agency, as its contents led to the arrest of several people involved in the scam.

But when Singh brought this to the notice of the competent court with a 15-page affidavit, the court, after forensic examination of the sheets, announced that the one the STF had possession of was genuine while that in possession of Pandey was forged.

Some of the so-called whistleblowers have been found to have Congress links, too.

Two activists Dr Anand Rai and Anshul Chaturvedi have complained that they have been receiving death threats. Some BJP spokespersons alleged they were being propped up by the Congress! Chief Minister Chouhan questioned in his interview on the India Today channel why at least one of them was enjoying the Congress’s hospitality.

Why is the scandal dangerous as well?

Twenty-five people — all accused — have lost their lives so far according to the official figure of the Special Task Force that is investigating the case under Madhya Pradesh High Court’s monitoring. The unofficial toll is 44 or more.

Are all these deaths linked to Vyapam?

That’s difficult to say. Some have died of cardiac arrest and freak road accidents. One succumbed to cancer. Some gave up their fight against alcoholism-induced liver and kidney diseases. However, in some of the cases of death due to ‘heart attack’, the victim had had no medical history suggesting he was susceptible. Aaj Tak reporter Akshay Singh is the most prominent among such instances. It is also difficult to believe that the whole casualty is sheer coincidence.

The STF says, though, that most of these deaths occurred even before an official inquiry was instituted to look into the alleged scam, which was 2013. Therefore, it argues, people couldn’t be killed out of the fear of somebody getting caught when even an investigation into the affair had not started. It further wants us to believe that, out of 2,000 arrests and in a case where tens of thousands have been students passing through the MPPEB, joining the dots of some murders is an unfair indulgence.

Student Namrata Damor, whose death led to a furore once again a few days ago on television, died in January 2012. However, her alleged suicide remains mysterious. Her dead body, recovered from the railway tracks in the Ujjain district, was found mutilated. The list of suspicious suicides include those of middlemen Aditya Chaudhary, Pramod Sharma, Bunty Sikarwar, students Ramendra Singh Bhadoria and Ravindra Pratap Singh, Dean at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Medical College Dr DK Sakalley, pharmacist Vijay Singh Patel, trainee sub-inspector Anamika Kushwaha and police constable Ramakant Pandey.

Student Gyan Singh Jatav died due to liver and kidney failure caused by alcoholism. Middleman Ashutosh Tiwari died due to the same addiction. Anant Ram Tagore, whose son got an RPF job believed to be in a fraudulent manner, died of cancer in a kidney. Student Premlata Pandey died of liver cancer. Assistant veterinary officer Narendra Singh Tomar complained of chest pain while in jail and breathed his last before he could be treated by the doctors at the hospital where he was rushed to. Assistant professor Rajendra Arya died due to liver infection.

Shailesh Yadav, son of the MP governor, died of brain haemorrhage aggravated by diabetes.

Road mishaps have claimed the lives of Shaymvir Yadav, Anshul Sachan, Anuj Uikey, Deepak Verma, Arvind Shakya, Kuldeep Marawi, Tarun Machhar, Devendra Nagar, Dinesh Jatav, Anand Singh Yadav and Deepak Jain. Interestingly, nobody hit any of them. In all these accidents, they bumped into a stationary or another moving object.

Cases in which bodies were recovered mysteriously, it seems, cannot be suicidal or disease-related deaths. They include some of the above and some other names. Vijay Singh Patel, Namrata Damor, Pramod Sharma, Ramendra Singh Bhadoria and Ramakant Pandey are the names that have figured above. Besides them, student Lalit Golaria’s body was recovered from beneath a bridge in Morena. Veterinary student Amit Sagar’s body was found in a pond in the Sheopur district.

Curiously, the students who died were among the accused and not among the witnesses or plaintiffs in the case. Were they about to sing?

Activist Rai believes 10 of these deaths must be probed; the rest may be coincidental.

How responsible is the BJP in the entire affair?

Alleged letter to Digvijaya Singh seeking favour in recruitment via Vyapam
Alleged letter to Digvijaya Singh seeking favour in enrolment via Vyapam

It is being justifiably questioned that, when the NDA government at the Centre has been so intolerant of all UPA-appointed governors, who were transferred and terminated at will, why it is grinning and bearing with Governor Yadav. Why is he the ‘glorious’ exception?

The ruling party’s (or the STF’s) best excuse is that the accused moved the High Court that stayed his arrest due to which he cannot be put in jail before he retires in September 2016.

As for the state unit of the BJP, the opposition will obviously not accept investigation by a wing of the state government — the state police, of which the STF is a part — as an objective law enforcer. While the High Court is expected to be neutral, the judiciary cannot do justice if the police prepare a weak case.

However, the large number of former government ministers and officials who have been arrested in connection with the Vyapam scam does not suggest laxity of a high order. Politicians and officials behind the bars include Laxmikant Sharma, former Education Minister of the state, OP Shukla — OSD with Sharma, mining businessman Sudhir Sharma, suspended IPS officer RK Shivhare and suspended joint commissioner (revenue) Ravikant Dwivedi.

Alleged racketeers who have been arrested include Dr Jagdish Sagar, Dr Sanjeev Shilpakar and Sanjay Gupta who allegedly masterminded the wrong admissions in pre-medical tests; there was a rival gang of Sudhir Rai, Santosh Gupta and Tarang Sharma that has been booked, too.

Arrested MPPEB officials include Examination Controller Pankaj Trivedi, officer CK Mishra, Nitin Mahendra (principal system analyst) and Ajay Sen (senior system analyst).

COO of Aurbindo hospital GS Khanuja, alleged fraud students Mohit Chaudhary and Jitendra Malviya, middlemen Narendra Dev Azad, Dr Vinod Bhandari and Animesh Akash Singh have been arrested, too.

Why is the Congress not happy with these arrests?

No big fish has been caught so far. [But when has that ever happened in any case of alleged corruption in India?]

Is the scandal exclusively of the BJP’s making?

Not really. Allegations of wrong candidates getting admissions and jobs surfaced in 2000 when the Congress was ruling Madhya Pradesh. Nobody saw an organised ring behind it. That happened in 2009. Now the BJP is claiming credit for instituting the inquiry by STF in 2013 “which the Congress did not do”!

In the meantime, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s alleged link with the scandal has surfaced, too.