Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has survived crises such as the “dumper scam” in the past but the buzz in Bhopal’s political circles is that his days in the office he entered almost 10 years ago could be numbered because of the Vyapam scam.
“Whatever the consequences, I am ready to face them,” the embattled Chouhan remarked on Sunday during a news conference on the multi-layered recruitment and admissions scam that has rocked his third term in the state’s top post.
He never said something similar when he was dogged by the “dumper scam” in 2007, one of the biggest crises of his political career till then. A graft case was registered against Chouhan after his wife Sadhna Singh allegedly bought four special trucks used in the construction sector for Rs 2 crore and leased them to a cement factory.
Chouhan was given a clean chit in the “dumper scam” in 2010 but is now facing a bigger crisis in the form of the Vyapam scam, so named from the Hindi acronym for the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) that is at the centre of a storm over the widespread rigging of tests for admission to professional courses and recruitment in government jobs.
The chief minister’s remarks caused a ripple in political circles, and the immediate inference being drawn is whether Chouhan sees himself on shaky ground.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation into the Vyapam scam and irrespective of Chouhan’s defiant stand that there will be no probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the buzz is that his days in the chief minister’s office are numbered.
A section of leaders of the BJP believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will ultimately have to make a tough decision against Chouhan and the only factor standing in the way of such a decision is Chouhan’s popularity in Madhya Pradesh as a mass leader.
“Who after Chouhan?” is an obvious question in the minds of leaders at the helm of affairs.
Unlike the dumper scam which was against Chouhan and his wife, the Vyapam scam has raised a stink in the entire system. Besides Chouhan, Governor Ram Naresh Yadav and his son were named as accused in the FIR.
Yadav got relief from the Madhya Pradesh high court on the technical ground that he has immunity against criminal proceedings as long as he is in office, while his son Shailesh Yadav was booked as an accused before he was found dead in his residence in Lucknow in March.
Opposition leaders, journalists and activists have questioned whether Chouhan can continue to shirk moral responsibility for such a huge crime committed under his very nose in Bhopal that spoiled the careers of hundreds of meritorious and talented youngsters.
“He will have to go for a CBI inquiry, which is bound to be instituted in the coming days. A span of 11 years for a leader like Chouhan, that too after his overall non-performance and big scams, is more than enough,” said Congress leader JP Dhanopia.
Political analyst Girija Shankar felt Chouhan committed a blunder by ordering an investigation into the MPPEB scam with retrospective effect. “We have hardly seen such investigations in any part of the country being ordered with retrospective effect,” he said.
According to political observers, Chouhan, widely regarded a loyalist of sidelined BJP leader LK Advani, has tried his best to keep Modi in good humour by trying to be the first to implement the Prime Minister’s schemes and by embracing every occasion in which he can be seen in Modi’s proximity. But Advani no longer frequents Madhya Pradesh as he used to.
Chouhan became chief minister after overcoming a rebellion by senior BJP leader Uma Bharti, who didn’t want to see him in the chair she was forced to relinquish in 2004.
He then built his image as a leader with mass appeal and strengthened his position in the BJP and the government through populist welfare schemes. That he and his wife were exonerated by the court in the dumper scam came as a shot in Chouhan’s arm and silenced his detractors within the BJP, who were eyeing the chief minister’s post.
To the credit of Chouhan are the 2008 and 2013 assembly elections and the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, during which the BJP trounced the main opposition Congress in the state.
But the Vyapam scam has been described as one of the biggest scandals in the history of the country. As many as 2,500 accused have been named so far, and about 2,000 of them have been arrested.
What has aggravated the situation for Chouhan of late is the growing number of deaths of accused, whistleblowers and witnesses linked to the Vyapam scam. By the state government’s own admission, the number of such deaths is 25 so far whereas information from other sources puts the figure at 40.
However, state BJP vice president Vijesh Lunawat defended Chouhan, saying the records clearly showed that the chief minister had ordered an investigation into the scam.
“It shows his spotless image. Also, it’s he who ensured that there is a comprehensive investigation into the scam and the arrest of high and mighty in the case. The common man has great faith in him and there is no challenge to his leadership in the coming time,” Lunawat said.
Read:Sack MP CM Chouhan to ensure impartial probe into Vyapam scam, says Congress