Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan bowed to public pressure on Tuesday and recommended a CBI probe into a snowballing examination scandal that has bruised his government’s credibility with people connected to the case dying mysteriously.
Chouhan announced the decision at a hurriedly-called press conference in Bhopal and his government filed a plea in the state high court to allow a central inquiry into the Vyapam scam that saw widespread rigging of competitive exams for entry into Madhya Pradesh’s professional education institutes, with everybody from students and politicians to bureaucrats and doctors under suspicion.
“In a democracy, the ruler should be above suspicion,” he said. “There are questions on people’s minds...I bow my head to people’s wishes.”
Analysts see the move as an attempt by the chief minister to deflate the Opposition’s campaign for his resignation with the Supreme Court set to hear a raft of pleas on July 9 from Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and others seeking an apex court-monitored CBI probe into the scam and the spate of deaths.
Read: SC to hear plea seeking CBI probe into Vyapam scandal, deaths
With a police constable questioned in the case found hanging at his home on Monday, activists and opposition parties pointed to more than 40 mysterious deaths of accused, beneficiaries, whistleblowers and witnesses, but state officials put the death count at a little over two dozen and said most resulted from “natural causes”.
“If we want a neutral probe, then the chief minister should resign,” said Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. “We want to clarify that if there has to be transparency, then he (Chouhan) should not object to an SC-monitored probe.”
The scam has also exposed fissures within the BJP, political observers say, as senior party leader and union minister Uma Bharti told a TV channel on Monday the state government was scuttling the investigation and the chief minister’s role should be probed.
“There is panic in Madhya Pradesh due to the deaths. I am scared for the lives of people connected to me. I am a minister but still I am scared,” she told India Today.
Chouhan’s announcement came a day after union home minister Rajnath Singh ruled out a CBI inquiry, saying a Madhya Pradesh high court-monitored special task force (STF) was already investigating the scam.
The Congress has been gunning for the chief minister and has also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on the issue that has sparked nationwide outrage.
But union law minister DV Sadananda Gowda triggered a controversy on Tuesday, arguing that the PM, who is on a five-nation Central Asia tour, need not comment on every “silly issue”.
“See, certain issues which are so simple issues, so silly issues that they need not be answered by the Prime Minister,” he said. “Our home minister (Rajnath Singh), ministers of concerned departments and even my party (president Amit Shah have answered everything. For each and every silly issue Prime Minister has to answer. It is not fair.”
At least 2,000 people have been arrested and another 500 are wanted in the scam that was unearthed in 2013 with multiple rackets that helped candidates rig the examinations for money, including employing imposters to write test papers, manipulating seating arrangements as well as supplying forged answer sheets.
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