The dean of Jabalpur Medical College Dr Arun Sharma, who recently submitted 200 documents to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the Vyapam scam, was found dead in a hotel room in New Delhi on Sunday morning. Dr Sharma’s predecessor Dr D K Sakalle too died mysteriously a year ago. Dr Sharma’s death comes less than 24 hours after Akshay Singh, a Delhi television journalist who had gone to interview the family of a slain Vyapam scam accused in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, died.
Including Dr Sharma and Akshay Singh 45 accused persons or witnesses in the Vyapam scam have died under mysterious circumstances. Officers of the MP Professional Examination Board (Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal, or Vyapam) are facing charges of rigging eligibility tests for professional courses (such as medical) and recruitments (such as of teachers and policemen) for over six years (2007-2013).
Over Rs 2,000 crore is believed to have been exchanged as bribes in the process. The state police have arrested about 2,000 people and are looking for at least 700 more. Those allegedly involved include politicians and bureaucrats as well as the officials working with Governor Ram Naresh Yadav.
The BJP-led state government has failed to stop accused persons and witnesses dying. The SIT set up by it has failed to nab murderers in a single case, despite admitting before the Madhya Pradesh High Court that 23 of the deaths were ‘unnatural deaths’. Many of the dead were between the age of 25 and 30, and ‘road accidents’ were often cited as the cause of death. The Delhi police were unusually quick to describe the death of Dr Sharma and Akshay Singh as ‘natural’.
The Indian Medical Association and the media trade bodies have refused to buy the police theory. Police link Dr Sharma’s death to over consumption of alcohol by a patient of hypertension and diabetes. How can they say anything before the examination of his viscera? They found an empty bottle of whisky in his hotel room. How do they know whether Dr Sharma drank the whole of it or shared it with someone, or someone else placed the bottle to send investigators on a wrong track? In Akshay Singh’s case too, the police concluded from external features that it was a natural death even as eyewitnesses said that suddenly Akshay started frothing.
In his case too, viscera report is yet to come. Akshaya’s family demanded his viscera be examined outside the state for a fair investigation. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been defending the indefensible. An unending series of deaths of accused persons or witnesses in the Vyapam scam does prima facie look like deep conspiracies. Obviously there are forces in state politics and bureaucracy who do not want the truth to come out because it would hurt them. Chouhan has been shrugging off the deaths for years now. His Home Minister Babulal Gaur attributed all deaths to natural causes, taking it to the most disgusting level with his remark that there was nothing unnatural as “whoever is born has to die one day”.
Chouhan claims that the proof of his honesty lay in the fact that he was the one who ordered the probe! But what a wishy-washy probe had he set up! What is the purpose of a probe that notes 23 ‘unnatural deaths’ among Vyapam accused or witnesses but detects none?
Chouhan’s reputation for good and clean governance has been severely damaged by the scam. He can probably retrieve something of the loss of his reputation by recommending a CBI probe. The SIT has been reporting to him, so nobody believes that investigations are going to be fair. As Chouhan has refused to recommend CBI probe, RSS and BJP leaders should intervene and make him sign a recommendation for it. Else, an unending series of mysterious deaths would surely end up in the Supreme Court asking the CBI to investigate under its direct supervision, with someone approaching it with public interest litigation. That would be hugely embarrassing for the BJP government in Bhopal and at the Centre. With the disclosures of direct favours to Lalit Modi, the kingpin in the IPL betting scam, by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already under opposition attack for his “double standards” on corruption in high places under the previous regime and that under his regime. The claim of his ministers and BJP spokespersons that what Swaraj and Raje did cannot be described as corruption has been pooh-poohed by the opposition and common voters on social media. Prime Minister Narendra Modi can help his government and Chouhan’s government gain some respite by intervening to set up a CBI probe in the Vyapam scam.