Photograph of Anil Chawla

Vyapam and BJP - Defending the Indefensible

Author - Anil Chawla

Independent India has seen many scams involving large sums of money. But measured in terms of human effect, no other scam comes close to Vyapam (including DMAT). More than 2000 persons are in prison - many of them are young boys and girls whose dreams have been destroyed. The figure of suspicious deaths of accused and witnesses is touching the half century mark (hope that by writing this article my name does not get added to that list of unfortunate persons). Besides the ones behind bars and the ones liberated from troubles of life, there are millions of young persons who believe that bungling of examination process in various entrance and competitive exams has ruined their future. It will be difficult to find a family among middle and upper classes of Madhya Pradesh that is not directly or indirectly affected by the scam. And Madhya Pradesh, with its population of about 78 million is not a small state. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Vyapam is the world's largest scam in all recorded history as far as human effect is concerned. Surely, that is not a record that anyone can be proud of.

Vyapam scam happened in the state of Madhya Pradesh mostly when BJP government was in power, though it probably started on a small scale when Congress was in power. There can be no denying that the scam grew and acquired the gigantic size during the years when BJP was in power and Shivraj Singh Chauhan was the Chief Minister.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Given the massive scale of the scam and the fact that the scam took place when BJP was holding reins in the state, one would have expected a mature political response from the party that at one time used to claim to be party with a difference. Sadly, the party's response has been to cover up with legal finery. The party is trying to stand behind Shivraj' Singh Chauhan claiming that the fellow is indeed a whistle-blower and that he is the one who ordered investigation into the sordid affair.

The approach of the party is ridiculous, immature, foolish and irresponsible besides being bad politics. It shows that the party lacks an understanding of the basic principles of law. The principle of vicarious liability is a well-established legal principle which stands for responsibility of the superior for acts of the subordinate. In essence, the principle is that if a servant commits a wrong, the master is responsible for the wrong. A text-book example of the principle is the Union Carbide case. There can be no doubt that gas leaked from the chemical plant at Bhopal in December 1984 due to some wrongful acts of some employees / officers of Union Carbide. There has never been any allegation that Warren Anderson, Chairman of Union Carbide at that time came to Bhopal and opened up some valves causing the gas to leak. Despite the absence of any allegations about his direct involvement, Warren Anderson was named as an accused in the case and spent his life as a fugitive. In fact, in Bhopal Warren Anderson was the symbol of the wrongdoer for all gas affected persons and his effigies were routinely burnt for many years on the anniversary of the tragedy till his death. Probably, some wing of BJP also would have burnt Warren Anderson's effigy at some time.

If one compares Warren Anderson's involvement with the gas tragedy to Shivraj's involvement in the Vyapam scam, undoubtedly Shivraj's role will appear to be more proximate and direct. Legally, the problem in India (for that matter, almost everywhere in the world) is that criminal law does not define scam and scamster. Investigating agencies are trying to look at Vyapam from the perspective of routine crimes like cheating, forgery, murder etc. Law will need to grow to take cognizance of an organized monstrous racket against society at large.

While law may take its time to grow up, people's perspective is shaped up by their notions of right and wrong. In the past two years, people have been soaking up to the daily newsfeed about Vyapam - initially with disbelief and skepticism. Slowly, the disbelief has given way to anger and frustration. As news of some relative or the other of that friend or close one started doing the rounds, the talk all around was that petty pawns in the game were being arrested while the kingpins / masterminds were moving free. Privately, all fingers have slowly turned to one direction. Of course, no one pleads that Shivraj had any direct hand in the scam. But, no one is ready to accept his argument of being the Mr. Clean while everyone around him was playing dirty. People believe that it is Chief Minister's job to keep a check on his ministers and officers; and if he fails in keeping a check, he cannot plead innocence.

Bharatiya Janata Party

BJP, with its culture of top-to-down approach, has failed to hear the voices at the ground level. One cannot blame them because the top leadership sees Shivraj as a leader capable of delivering electoral wins. The recent victory in Garoth by-election is cited as evidence of Shivraj's capabilities. The fact that many of these electoral victories may be due to weakness of opposition or ground-level manipulations or party's organizational capabilities is conveniently ignored. This attitude on the part of a political party actually invites the people to deliver a resounding defeat to the party. People of Madhya Pradesh had seen a similar arrogant attitude in Digvijay Singh, the Chief Minister from 1993 to 2003. Digvijay used to always boast that he knew how to win elections before the people of the state taught him otherwise. On one hand, BJP is ignoring the sentiments of the people and principles of justice (the word "dharm" is apt here). On the other hand, BJP is placing excessive or rather boastful emphasis on "capabilities of winning elections". BJP, like Digvijay, is forgetting that no one, except the people, can deliver an electoral victory. No leader or booth management or electoral calculations can bring victory in elections to a party that insults the sentiments of people or goes against the sense of fairness and justice of a common man.

Unfortunately, BJP national leadership is still living in the ivory tower of euphoria of winning parliamentary elections. They are unable to see the folly of defending Shivraj. There was a time when BJP could claim a high moral ground. In those days, mere mention in a scam led Advani to render his resignation. It was not too long ago when Uma Bharti resigned her position as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh on being named as an accused in a small inconsequential case. From those high standards to standing behind Shivraj in Vyapam has been a great fall for a party that at one time promised zero tolerance to corruption.

National leadership of BJP must realize that Vyapam is no ordinary scam; and the ill effects of Vyapam will be felt by the party across the country for a long time to come. The party has already made blunders in handling the super-mega-scam. The legalistic approach that the party seems to be adopting is a political hara-kiri. It is high time that the party put its ear to the ground and listened to the private whispering voices of innumerable people of Madhya Pradesh.

Time is running out for BJP to save itself from the political fall-out of Vyapam. The party must stop defending the indefensible. It has no option but to carry out a purge in the state sacrificing many top leaders, throwing them behind bars and putting a new team of fresh capable faces in the forefront. Yes, this is drastic and will need political will, strength and courage. Undoubtedly, this is the biggest test of Narendra Modi's leadership qualities. If he carries out the purge in Madhya Pradesh, he will face turbulence for some time but will subsequently rise to new heights. On the other hand, if Modi and Amit Shah are seen as defending Shivraj, they will lose all credibility and stature in public eyes. Let us hope that they choose to bite the bullet; because if they do not, not just the BJP, the country will be the loser.

20 July 2015

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a legal and management consultant by profession.

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