The Madhya Pradesh government will move the Supreme Court if the high court rejects a plea for a CBI probe into a multi-crore exam-rigging scandal that has ruined the state’s reputation, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said on Wednesday.
Opposition parties have called for Chouhan’s resignation and demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe as the investigation into one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals gets murkier with the mysterious deaths of at least 40 people linked to the fraud.
After months of resistance, Chouhan gave in to intense public pressure on Tuesday and asked the state high court to allow the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the inquiry from the Special Investigation Team (SIT) which is under heavy criticism for allegedly going soft on top ministers and bureaucrats.
But on Wednesday, the high court deferred the hearing till July 20 because the Supreme Court is hearing a batch of similar pleas including one by senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, the hearings for which are scheduled for Thursday.
The apex court is also hearing a case asking for the removal of governor Ram Naresh Yadav, an accused in the case.
"We will pray in the Supreme Court that there be a CBI investigation. If and when we have to go to the SC, this will be the government stand," the embattled CM said, hoping a CBI investigation would clear perceptions of a cover-up.
“I have pride in my party, the party is standing behind me. There is no question of no support,” he said.
Asked about a string of insensitive comments by his ministers about the deaths linked to the scam, Chouhan said, “My ministers have clarified. This is no embarrassment (for me), they have clarified. Media has reported what they had to.”
Chouhan blamed the Congress, especially former CM Digvijaya Singh, for creating a negative perception of the state.
“Digvijaya Singh is like Vidushak. . .he is telling people Madhya Pradesh has become dangerous, he told the reporter (who died last week while investigating the scam) be careful, don’t go there. You go around the state, you think someone will get you killed? It’s only a matter of time, truth can never be hidden," he said.
The A to Z of the Vyapam scam
Over two million students have been affected by the scandal that saw organised rackets employ imposters from different states, manipulate seating arrangements and supply forged answer sheets to rig exams conducted by the MP professional examination board.
Chouhan’s reputation has been bruised by the fallout of the scam that saw over 2,000 arrests with whistleblowers and witnesses saying they feared for their lives and alleged the state government was deliberating eliminating people to scuttle the investigation.
This trial by media has hurt the prospects of the state that has been growing at 10% a year, attracting large private investments badly needed to create jobs every year, Chouhan told Hindustan Times in an interview.
“Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the person who started the probe, has been put in the dock. The image of the state has been ruined, the image is that people here are being murdered.”
He said he had complete confidence in the high-court monitored SIT probe and the CBI probe was ordered to dispel suspicions in people’s mind.
“Everywhere else where you have had cases of rigged medical exams, students have been caught and after some time let off on bail. But we are going to the root of this case and everywhere we found evidence, the STF acted.
So far, the BJP has stood behind Chouhan as top leaders think his exit will trigger instability within the party in the state but many say the embattled leader’s days as chief minister may be numbered as he faces the worst crisis of his political career.