With stakes so high, politicians won’t give up easy in Vyapam scam
Cracking the mystery behind the serial deaths of people involved in the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh is perhaps the most complex whodunit in Indian history. That, more than 40 people, including alleged beneficiaries, perpetrators, investigators, witnesses and even journalists, died at regular intervals, that too under the watch of a Special Task Force (STF) and a High Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), make an eerie story without precedence.
Although the state home minister Babulal Gaur is certain that the deaths had nothing unnatural about it as the victims just “fell sick and died”, both the STF and the SIT have said that people had died under mysterious circumstances. The most unnatural was the death of a journalist, Akshay Singh, who died immediately after interviewing the father of a scam-beneficiary medical student who was found dead near a railway track three years ago. Reportedly, Singh had a glass of water and tea during the interview and began coughing and frothing at the mouth after half an hour. Based on the autopsy, police said he died of a heart attack. He was only 38.
A day after, the dean of a medical college, who was assisting the STF was found dead in his hotel room, reportedly along with a lot of alcohol and some medicines, in Delhi. A week earlier, a much younger man, a 29-year-old accused in the case lodged in Indore jail, also died of a “heart attack”.
What makes the Vyapam deaths more mysterious is that there is no common cause of fatality – it comprises everything that makes deaths unnatural: suicide, poisoning, drowning, road accidents, murder and unexplained cardiac arrests. However, given the common thread of the scam that connects all the victims, it’s only fair to suspect planned murder that appeared as different forms of unnatural death. Most of the deaths are either “suicides” or caused by “road-accidents.”
Majority of the victims had been middlemen while most others were beneficiaries. A few of them, such as the dean and Singh, were assisting the investigation. All of them were important for unraveling the conspiracy, its scale and the people behind it.
The fact that they have not been able to trace who is behind even one death, is a failure of both the STF and the forensic experts. When the deaths mounted over the last three years, the STF should have read the writing on the wall and strengthened its intelligence machinery. It’s impossible to give protection to all as huge number of people are involved and nobody knows how much has been unearthed. However, given that some key operatives had been arrested, the investigators should have picked up trails that could have led them to the masterminds at large who are probably issuing the execution orders. That many of those arrested are reportedly naming people, who are already dead to mislead investigators, is a clear giveaway as to why these deaths are happening.
Similarly, it’s highly unlikely that the forensic authorities are well-equipped for the chemical examination of viscera and body tissues of the people who died of “heart attack”, alcohol-related illnesses and liver problems. For instance, heart attacks can be induced by a naturally occurring toxin called “cerberin” (found in a poisonous fruit) that’s extremely hard to detect even in state-of-the-art laboratories. Similarly, a commonly seen poisonous mushroom can cause acute liver failure. Have the forensic experts looked for these toxins in victims who appeared to have died of heart attacks and liver problems? Are they even capable of that?
The conspiracy behind Vyapam and the cover-up efforts seem to be more sinister than one can imagine. The alleged involvement of a former education minister of the BJP, the Governor, who incidentally lost his son to the scam, a large number of politicians (more than 100), and the sheer magnitude of the organised crime will not allow for a straightforward investigation. Apparently, everything Vyapam (Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board – MPPEB) did, whether it was recruiting people for government jobs or candidates for medical schools, had been rigged by a criminal syndicate of powerful politicians and officials. When politicians are involved in crime, they don’t easily give up because the stakes are so high and covering up is easy.
People, who are critical for investigating organised crime by politicians, getting killed or “committing suicide” during investigation is not uncommon in India. In the multi-crore core NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) scam in Uttar Pradesh, for which the Mayawati government was allegedly responsible, five senior medical officers and a clerk died during investigation – three were murdered, one was found dead, one was killed in a “road-accident”, while one “shot himself” dead. Strangely, family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, an accused in one of the murders, later joined the BJP. Similarly, Sadiq Batcha, a businessman who suddenly became rich and close associate of 2G accused and UPA’s telecom minister R Raja, was found hanging on the day he was to be questioned by the CBI to trace the 2G money trail.
Vyapam, in comparison, looks more like a veritable death-trap than a scam. Clearly, when politicians themselves are the criminals, it offers no hope, but evoke terror because in the end they are investigating themselves.