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Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been under attack over the Vyapam (MP Professional Examination Board) recruitment scam. In an exclusive interview to HT, his first to a newspaper after the scam surfaced, Chouhan hits back at his detractors, saying he should be credited – not attacked – for the expose. Excerpts:
Is the recruitment scam a blow to your government’s image?
Last year, I got an anonymous letter that proxy candidates were writing the PMT exam, conducted by Vyapam. I got it probed. When it appeared we have hit just the tip of an iceberg, an STF was formed. Today, a former minister, a senior police officer and government officials are behind the bars. Should I be credited for exposing the scam and acting against the culprits or attacked for this?
Were appointments made in your tenure influenced by people in the government?
In the previous Congress governments, appointments were made in an arbitrary manner. A Superintendent of Police used to decide on appointment of constables, a patwari was appointed by the commissioner through a process prone to manipulation. It was my government which decided in 2007 to do away with arbitrary procedures and introduced a transparent mechanism of recruitment. Things worked. There was no complaint till 2012. When the first case of an irregularity was reported to me, we took action and the case was busted.
How true are the allegations of ‘jobs for sale’ in Madhya Pradesh?
Of the over 3.5 lakh appointments made in my tenure, only 228 are under the scanner. Even though it was just a fraction, I got it probed. My rivals may use whatever adjective they like, but the result of efforts taken by my government to crack the whip on corrupt is for everyone to see.
Did your wife influence the appointment process?
The Congress accused my wife of getting jobs for 17 of her relatives from Gondia (in Maharashtra) in the transport department. Records show not a single candidate from there got a job. Even media targeted her without an iota of evidence. This was unfair to a woman not in public life. Shouldn't media have tried to find out the truth?
Has the series of scams tarnished the state as being among the most corrupt in India?
I had two options before me: either to brush under the carpet corruption cases or act upon them. I chose the second. The Lokayukta conducted several raids, booked corrupt officials, attached their properties and special courts were set up to investigate cases of corruption within a time frame. The result was an increase in figure of corruption cases registered, because we acted on inputs and lodged complaint. Since we started registering cases and acting on it, people came out to report cases of corruption. We are a state, which has zero tolerance towards corruption, even if it means a rise in the number of complaints registered.
Will it not be difficult for you to defend the case in future elections?
People of my state are happy that the state government is acting against the corrupt politicians and officers. Every time I visit some part of the state, I ask the people should the government stop acting on corrupt and they say 'no'. When I ask them should we continue doing what we are doing, they say 'yes'. What is important to me is that my people are convinced about what I am doing. A series of electoral victories only prove it. I am not bothered what media or the outside world thinks of me.
Hasn't recent controversies dented your authority in the state and in the party?
Madhya Pradesh is a perfect example of what sort of coordination should be there between the party and the government. I don't say that everybody in my state has one view on every issue. There could be aberrations. But we work like a team. My leaders are convinced that I am not on a wrong footing.