Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Prespective Of 'Vyapam Scam': After Rapid Political Rise, CM Chouhan May Sink In Cash-For-Jobs Scandal

By Newscop
Group Managing Editor
Once seen as a prime ministerial candidate, the Madhya Pradesh chief minster is now trying just to survive the crisis.

The cash-for-jobs, or Vyapam, scam surfaced four months before a moment of glory for Madhya Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Already eight years in office, the chief minister was hailed as the hero of a spectacular electoral victory in the state assembly election of 2013.

Sporadic cases of ineligible candidates being granted admission to the state’s six medical colleges had been surfacing in the media for many years. The public also had a sense of the longstanding nexus between Madhya Pradesh’s professional examination officials and admission touts.

But until then, the scam was mostly seen as being confined to rigging in pre-medical tests conducted by the Madhya Pradesh professional examination board, which determines admission to professional colleges and recruits people for government jobs.

In September 2013, in police custody, Pankaj Trivedi, the board’s examination controller and the racket’s kingpin, had started spilling the beans about the rigging of recruitment tests for government jobs, but the ramifications of his confession were still hazy.

The opposition Congress did try to corner the chief minister on the scam in the run-up to the 2013 assembly election but it was too demoralised and disunited to make it an effective poll plank. The chief minister blunted the opposition’s attack by setting up a special task force to investigate the scam. People bought into Chouhan’s ploy. The result was the BJP’s hat-trick election win.

Worst crisis
After the win, however, embarrassment for the chief minister began to mount as the special task force started arresting several of those accused on the basis of Trivedi’s confession. The computer hard disk of the board’s chief system analyst, Nitin Mahindra, offered many clues. It contained spreadsheets in which the accused had recommended people to be improperly admitted or given jobs.

One of the spreadsheets contained the chief minister’s name as a recommender for candidates, according to the All-India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijay Singh. The Madhya Pradesh high court later dismissed the Congress’s attempts to present this as proof of the chief minister’s direct complicity, saying the name was forged. But Chouhan dreads the prospect of that being re-examined by an independent agency. This is why is he is dead against agreeing to a CBI probe into scam, despite a nationwide clamour for one.

Once seen as a prime ministerial candidate, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is now staring at the worst political crisis of his career. A spate of mysterious deaths related to the scam have surfaced, making things very tense for him.

He has never looked as downcast in public as he did during a press conference at his residence in Bhopal on July 5, the day after the shocking death of TV journalist Akshay Singh in Meghnagar of Jhabua district. “I am prepared to face any consequence,” he said, with what sounded like false bravado.

Smaller storms
At the same time, Shivraj Singh Chouhan has weathered other, if more minor, storms. Barely one and a half years into his first term, he faced a massive corruption charge. In 2007, a Bhopal court admitted a complaint alleging that the chief minister’s wife, Sadhna Singh, had bought four dumpers, or loading trucks, worth Rs 2 crore in all. and had leased them to a Rewa-based cement factory. Since the factory owner was known to be close to the chief minister, allegations of a quid-pro-quo flew thick and fast. The Lokayukta took up the case, but exonerated the Chouhan couple four years later.

Then in October 2012, the chief minister had to deal with the fallout of income tax raids on the offices and residences of his childhood friend, the billionaire builder-contractor Dilip Suryavanshi, whose wealth had grown exponentially during Chouhan’s rule.  The opposition went after the chief minister, alleging that he had facilitated his friend to turn a billionaire from a petty contractor by generously awarding him the state government’s road contracts. The chief minister weathered this as well because the opposition failed to come up with concrete evidence for its claims.

Chouhan also faces accusations that he has promoted his family’s alleged sand-mining business and the Shiva Construction company in particular, of which his elder brother, Narendra Singh Chouhan, the Congress says is a partner. Chouhan denies all these allegations, no one has indeed yet been able to offer any evidence for them.

Chouhan is also aware of talk that his flamboyant wife Sadhna Singh has a say in appointing officials and awarding contract. Chouhan is so touchy about any negative statement about his wife that he sued a former leader of the opposition, Ajay Singh, for saying that she had bought a currency-counting machine. Recently, a journalist from an English daily got a notice of eviction from his government-allotted house for describing Sadhna Singh in print as “a queen of controversy”.

According to some, the state lokayukta, justice PP Naolekar, has not been as aggressive in investigating corruption, for which Chouhan has extended his six-year tenure by a year.

Rapid rise
Chouhan considers his wife a political blessing, according to those close to him. Since their marriage in 1991, his political stock has risen phenomenally. A son of a farmer, he was elected to the state assembly for the first time in 1990. A year later, he got a chance to represent the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency, which former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had vacated in favour of a seat in Lucknow. Since then Chouhan has represented Vidisha five times, only to vacate the seat in 2005 on being elected chief minister.

In state politics, his initial mentor was former MLA Salig Ram Shrivastava.  But an ambitious Chouhan soon hitched his stars to former chief minister Sundar Lal Patwa. After he was exposed to national politics, Chouhan lost on time in becoming close to the powerful triumvirate of Vajpayee-LK Advani-Pramod Mahajan.

Advani, in particular, took a great liking to the young Chouhan. The BJP patriarch’s blessings ensured that Chouhan got in quick succession the posts of the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha national secretary, then president, then BJP national general secretary, and finally, that of Madhya Pradesh BJP president. Although he assiduously maintains a safe distance from perceived detractors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he is still considered a staunch Advani acolyte and his equation with Narendra Modi is far from warm.

In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, a section of the media sought to project Chouhan as Modi’s potential rival. Advani’s fulsome praise for the Madhya Pradesh chief minister only added weight to the speculation. But a shrewd Chouhan always made it a point to dispel such an impression.

On thin ice
Since Modi’s ascendance and Advani’s consequent eclipse, Chouhan is acutely conscious of the fact that he can no longer count on the high command’s blessings in taming his detractors within the party. For nearly nine years as chief minister, Chouhan faced virtually no opposition from within the BJP.

Uma Bharti, a former chief minster, from 2003 December to August 2004, was the exception. His coronation as chief minister in November 2005 took place even as Uma Bharti walked out of a BJP legislative party meeting with her half a dozen MLA supporters. For the next two years, Chouhan endured the rebel sanyasin’s ‘Bachcha Chor’ (child thief) taunt, which suggested he had hijacked a government that Uma Bharti felt she had  put in place by dethroning the Congress’s Digvijay Singh in the 2003 assembly election.

On the job, however, Chouhan proved to be a quick learner. Within a month of assuming office, he replaced a forthright chief secretary Vijay Singh with the pliable bureaucrat Rakesh Sahni. It was a bold move, sending a strong message to other politicians and bureaucrats.  Although not a visionary, Chouhan is credited with showing political wisdom. He initiated populist schemes such as the Ladli Laxmi Yojana, for the welfare of girls, offering free tickets to elderly people travelling to Hindu and Muslim pilgrim centres and giving zero-interest loans to farmers.

He also periodically met different groups, such as women, farmers, drivers, students, etc., at his residence. However, this massive scam in the government threatens to become a huge blot on his otherwise not-so-unsatisfactory record.

Shivraj was born in March 1959 to Prem Singh Chouhan and his wife Sundar Bai in the Jait village of Sehore district. He came to Bhopal to study in Model School, where his oratory skills earned him popularity and in 1975 the post of student union president. He joined the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh as a young student. As an RSS volunteer he spent some time in jail during the Emergency.

Later, he joined the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarti Parishad, while studying at Hamidia College in Bhopal. As an ABVP representative, he won the student union president election. He has an MA in philosophy from Bhopal University.
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