Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 3: Shivraj Singh Chouhan is at risk of losing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s backing after a “leak” dragged two Sangh stalwarts into an exam scandal in his state, Sangh and BJP insiders have told The Telegraph.
They claimed the Sangh was “furious” with the Madhya Pradesh chief minister after the names of late Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan and current joint general secretary Suresh Soni were “allowed” to figure in the scandal.
Sudarshan and Soni had allegedly recommended their nominees to the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, which conducts tests for medical college admissions and recruitment of a section of government staff.
Documents that investigators have given to the high court purportedly quote accused O.P. Shukla and Mihir Kumar (a Sangh volunteer) as saying that Sudarshan handed a “recommendation letter” to the government through Soni. Sangh sources are questioning the “leak”.
Chouhan’s family and other bigwigs too have been accused of involvement in the scam, which relates to allegations of bribery and impersonation in the exams and dates back to 2007.
“The leak reflects poorly on the Chouhan administration because nearly every apparatus involved in the probe is under its control,” a BJP source close to the Sangh said.
“Either somebody in Chouhan’s government did it deliberately or those manning the systems were inept. Both circumstances are unpardonable.”
Soni, a Sangh veteran, is from Madhya Pradesh. He is the Sangh’s national point man in the BJP but takes a special interest in the politics of his home state.
He was in the past thought to have backed key state BJP leaders who, with “some push”, could have become Chouhan’s challengers.
After Chouhan won a third straight victory in last winter’s Assembly elections, he used his reinforced clout to have some of Soni’s associates replaced by his own loyalists in the state unit.
When the Sangh’s central working committee was recast last year, Soni’s alleged tendency to dabble in the BJP’s factional conflicts earned him a “demotion”. He lost his No. 3 spot in the Sangh to a younger Dattatreya Hosabale, a fellow joint general secretary.
A source compared the Soni “leak” to the row over the allocation of petrol pumps during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister.
The alleged offenders included swayamsevaks, among them then Sangh spokesperson M.G. Vaidya, who regularly castigated the BJP and its government at his media briefings. Once the petrol pump controversy broke, his public appearances thinned.
So far, the Sangh has stood by Soni, with spokesperson Ram Madhav dismissing the allegations.
Chouhan too has been defended, now and then, by central BJP leaders such as Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. But on his home turf, he has largely been left to defend himself against an increasingly aggressive Congress.
Sources attributed the lack of a collective effort to the distrust between Chouhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the troubled prelude to Modi’s elevation as candidate for Prime Minister, Chouhan had let himself be used as a counterweight by Modi critics like L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj.
Sources said Modi was “unlikely” to unsettle Chouhan right now to avoid being seen as vindictive.
“Besides, Chouhan recently won a resounding victory. Unless the allegations conclusively entangle him or his family members, he is safe. Without him, the Madhya Pradesh BJP will be a rudderless ship,” a source said.
Chouhan’s “silent” critics are hoping he would eventually be replaced by Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar.