In a dramatic U-turn, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday announced he has recommended a CBI investigation into the Vyapam recruitment scam, but the Congress insisted he must resign for a fair probe.
A day after Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the CBI need not probe the scandal that has reportedly claimed many lives and after Chouhan himself did not sound too enthusiastic about the CBI, the chief minister made a sudden volte-face.
Addressing the media in Bhopal, a grim looking Chouhan said he was dispatching a letter to the Madhya Pradesh High Court requesting that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be allowed to probe the scandal.
“In a democracy, the ruler should be above suspicion,” he said. “There are questions in people’s minds. People want to know the truth. Questions in people’s minds have to be answered.
“I bow my head to people’s wishes. I am sending a request to the high court that the CBI should be allowed to investigate the case,” the veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader said.
BJP sources said that Chouhan’s change of mind followed some hard talk by Rajnath Singh, who convinced him that a CBI probe would help ward off the negative image the party was gaining on account of the Vyapam scam and other issues.
Chouhan, however, made it clear that he had full faith in the investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) so far, which he underlined was being monitored by the high court.
Until now, the chief minister had maintained that the CBI need not be brought into the picture as the Madhya Pradesh High Court was monitoring the SIT probe and there was no way his government could influence the investigation.
An unrelenting Congress stuck to its demand for Chouhan’s resignation, saying his departure was important for a neutral probe.
It said Chouhan, who has been in power in Madhya Pradesh for over a decade, was trying to “mislead” the people by requesting the high court for a probe by the CBI into the scam.
“We remain firm on our demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe,” Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said in New Delhi.
“If we want a neutral probe, then the chief minister should resign. We want to clarify that if there has to be transparency, then he should not object to an Supreme Court-monitored probe,” he added.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said that apart from the Vyapam recruitment scam, the probe into the deaths of people connected with the issue should also be handed over to the CBI.
The BJP called the Congress “confused” after the opposition party dismissed a CBI probe into the Vyapam scam, insisting on a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe instead.
“I think the Congress is confused under the leadership of (party vice president) Rahul Gandhi. They should decide what they want,” BJP national secretary Siddhartha Nath Singh told media persons in Kolkata.
“If they want a CBI probe, the chief minister has already requested it. And so far as the court-monitored probe is concerned, the high court monitored SIT is already investigating the matter,” he said.
The CPI-M said the Supreme Court should oversee the CBI probe into the scam and asked Chouhan to quit until this gets over.
“The CPI-M demands that a thorough enquiry by the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court must be conducted into this sordid affair and the guilty should be identified and punished,” the party said.
Over 40 people allegedly associated with the admission and recruitment scam in Vyapam – the Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal or Professional Examination Board – have died since 2013 — in mysterious circumstances or committed suicide.
Chouhan insisted that he did not discuss his decision to go for a CBI inquiry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now on a visit to Central Asia. He refuted the opposition’s “baseless allegations” against him.
The Congress and the AAP have also sought the resignation of Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav over his alleged involvement in the scam.
Tuesday’s announcement follows an increasing number of deaths allegedly linked to the scandal in one way or the other.
On June 4, a television journalist covering the story in Madhya Pradesh died mysteriously. The next day, a college dean from the state helping in the investigation was found dead in a hotel room in Delhi.
On Monday, a woman police trainee recruited through Vyapam was found dead in Sagar district.
And a Madhya Pradesh police constable, who committed suicide also on Monday, was being questioned by a team probing the scam, sources said.