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Shivraj feels entrance scam heat

Bhopal, June 27: Suddenly, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is looking worried and vulnerable.

A multi-crore professional examination board scam has reached his doorstep following the arrest of a former state BJP minister and hundreds of others, including parents, students, teachers and brokers.

A close associate who served as the chief minister’s personal assistant is under the scanner and has taken anticipatory bail. Armed with telephone call details, the Opposition Congress is insisting key characters in the scam had easy access to the chief minister’s office and residence.

Madhya Pradesh state authorities have cancelled the admission of over 1,000 students after it was revealed that they got through to government medical colleges by fraudulent means. These students had allegedly paid others to take the entrance exam on their behalf while their parents allegedly bribed senior officials of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board.

Chouhan, who played a key role in the BJP’s spectacular victory in the November 2013 Assembly polls for a third consecutive term, is now busy filing defamation cases against the Congress. Hurt by the Congress campaign accusing him and his wife Sadhna, Chouhan has filed a defamation case against state Congress spokesperson K.K. Mishra in the court of Bhopal district and sessions judge Sushma Khosla.

Yesterday, Chouhan told the media the Congress was suffering from “Shivraj phobia” and levelling “baseless” allegations against him.

“In earlier instances too, the Congress had levelled baseless charges but, in the end, they turned out to be false and misleading,” Chouhan said, pointing out that voters had kept their faith in him in 2013 and in the Lok Sabha elections this year. In the recently concluded national elections, the BJP won 27 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

While Chouhan is trying to brazen out the Congress attack, there is disquiet brewing against him within the BJP. Union minister and Chouhan’s rival Uma Bharati was in Bhopal recently demanding a full probe into the alleged PEB scam.

“I expect that the criminal, howsoever powerful he may be, should not be spared,” Uma, architect of the party’s victory in 2003, said.

When she arrived in the Madhya Pradesh capital last Sunday, Uma was accorded a warm welcome. She even addressed BJP workers outside the chief minister’s residence.

Although elected to the Lok Sabha from Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh), Uma fancies herself as a leader from home state Madhya Pradesh. She was reportedly miffed with Chouhan when the chief minister did not invite her to a programme to felicitate Union ministers from the state.

Najma Heptulla and Sushma Swaraj, considered outsiders by some local BJP leaders, were felicitated along with Narender Singh Tomar and Thavar Chand Gehlot. The Chouhan camp argued that Heptulla and Sushma were MPs from the state, while Uma was not.

A section of BJP leaders considered hostile to Chouhan is said to be trying to knock on the doors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the scam at a higher level.

Some BJP leaders feel Modi might take some interest in Madhya Pradesh politics as Chouhan, along with Sushma, had tried to persuade L.K. Advani to contest from Bhopal. Advani eventually contested from Gandhinagar, as the BJP’s parliamentary board wanted, but the episode still gets discussed in state party circles.