You are seen as the principal whistle-blower in the scandal involving impersonation in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board popularly known by its Hindi acronym as Vyapam scam. When did you first start suspecting large-scale impersonation?
In 1994, I took the pre-medical test and discovered the geology paper had been leaked in Gwalior. In those days, there were separate papers in the pre-medical test, not a combined single paper. We, the students, protested, because of which the paper was cancelled and the examination was conducted again. The principal accused in that leak was one Dr Gaur, of a medical college in Gwalior, who was murdered in 1995.
After completing my MBBS and working for a while, I took the post-graduation test in 2005. The top 10 of the merit list was a shocker for those who had studied with them. The previous academic performance of the top 10 had been just about average. These 10 stayed in the same hostel, happened to be the children of top bureaucrats. The administration didn’t respond to our protests and complaints.
Meanwhile, I was assigned a diploma course for my post-graduation in Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College, Indore.
Weren’t you already a student leader then?
The post-graduate students had their own association which, in Madhya Pradesh, is known as the Junior Doctors’ Association, of which I became the president. To press our demands, the junior doctors would periodically gather in Bhopal. On one such occasion I came across Deepak Yadav [now a prime accused in the Vyapam scam], who was the president of the Gwalior chapter of the Junior Doctors Association. I had heard rumours about his role in the impersonation business. His lifestyle was amazingly lavish.
That got you to begin your probe?
It began with [an incident involving] Jagdish Sagar [another kingpin of the scam], who was doing his Doctor of Medicine in Indore, between 2004 and 2008. Sagar’s lifestyle was amazing – he would wear gold ornaments, costly sunglasses, and drive around in expensive cars. I was told he had amassed wealth by selling pre-medical test papers or by getting students selected by fraudulent means.
But that seems more like gossip than anything else.
Nevertheless, that input proved useful. In 2007, both Jagdish Sagar and I were invited by a politician to attend an engagement ceremony in Bhopal. Jagdish invited me to come along with him in his vehicle, a Safari. In Bhopal, after we checked in at a place where we had been put up, Jagdish left saying he had personal work to attend to.
I have an investigative bent of mind. I decided to see what was there in the suitcase of his. The suitcase could be opened only with a number-code.
You cracked the code?
At first attempt, through the number 786.
Why 786? Muslims consider it a holy number.
It is considered a holy number by 90% of Hindus as well. I consider it holy. Call it intuition, but that number simply popped up in my head. The suitcase opened. I took it as a message from Bhagwan to probe the Vyapam scam.
Did the suitcase contain incriminating stuff?
The suitcase had PMT forms and many photographs of students. I figured out that Jagdish Sagar was involved in switching photos and getting "solvers" to impersonate candidates listed to take the test. [Solvers are those who take the test instead of actual candidates.]
I distanced myself from Jagdish Sagar, but I kept a watch on him. Indore is a small town, where he began working as assistant professor in its Index Medical College. I was always on the lookout to gather proof to show that the pre-medical test was rigged. My break came in 2009. Bihari students in one of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College’s hostels received a call from their friends from the state who were studying in the local veterinary college, informing them that they had the pre-medical test paper. They were also asked to identify and send names of candidates who’d be willing to buy the paper. For each paper sold, the student who had introduced the buyer was to get Rs 50,000.
This news spread on the campus. I passed this information to Deputy Superintend of Police (Crime), plus the mobile numbers of students who had received the calls from veterinary students. On this basis, the police raided a hotel, from where 40 parents and 25 students were nabbed and the pre-medical test paper was seized. A case was registered. But the parents and children were made complainants in the case, though they should have been made the accused.
Fearing dilution or weakening of the case, I lodged a complaint with the Principal Secretary, Medical Education Department.
What was the content of your complaint?
In the complaint note, I explained how Deepak Yadav and Jagdish Sagar switched photos and enabled solvers – brought from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan – to impersonate the candidates in the pre-medical test. I also suggested that forms filled at different stages of the test by successful candidates should be verified, that it could help detect those who had been impersonated by the solvers in the test.
Following my complaint, the Medical Education Department set up a four-member committee on December 17, 2009. But I came to know that a committee had been formed on my complaint much later. Colleges were asked to institute subcommittees, which were to cross-check whether or not impersonation and fraud had taken place.
So how did you come to know about the committee formed by the Medical Education Department?
In the Bundelkhand Medical College, Sagar, a professor known to me was a member of its subcommittee. He’s also a whistleblower in Vyapam. But he has chosen to remain anonymous. That’s why the important role he played isn’t known to the people.
The professor gave me the letter from the medical education department committee, formed on the basis of my complaint, asking the college in Sagar to form a subcommittee. He also communicated to me that for the year 2009 and 2010 his college subcommittee had submitted a written report to the Director, medical education department, who, however, hadn’t taken any action on it.
Armed with documentary proof about the existence of the committee, I filed a Right to Information application seeking information on the number of candidates who had been identified to have used fraudulent methods to clear the pre-medical tests. When no relevant information was furnished, I approached Pratap Grewal, who was then the Congress member of the legislative assembly from Sardarpur, Dhar, and requested him to file a question in the Vidhan Sabha seeking the same information.
What was the government’s response? Who was the minister overseeing the medical education department then?
On March 31, 2011, Grewal’s question was tabled in the Vidhan Sabha. It was Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who was overseeing the medical education department then. In his reply, he accepted the committee had been instituted, but nobody had been identified thus far.
This was contrary to the information I had. At least, the dean of the medical college in Sagar had sent names of 50 students from 2009 and 2010 batches who had been identified to have employed fraudulent methods to clear the pre-medical test. I knew this through the professor who had provided me the serial numbers of the letters the college had sent to the medical education department. It was obvious the government was lying, but I had no proof. I only had the serial numbers of the letters, not the names of candidates.
In 2011, I had more or less the same question raised by Radhelal Baghel, who was a Bahujan Samaj Party MLA. The government’s response was that information is being collected. It was an attempt to suppress the case. The question, as is the procedure, had been filed in the Vidhan Sabha a month ago, and deans of different colleges had already sent in their reports. So the government already had the information when it replied to Baghel’s question.
Who were the kingpins?
Dr Jagdish Sagar and Dr Deepak Yadav. In fact, Dr Sagar called me on July 13, 2013, at 2.27 pm and 2.31 pm, telling me to put an end to the media coverage of Vyapam, otherwise I’d face dire consequences. I passed his mobile number to the police station and he was tracked down to Mumbai, from where he was arrested later in the night. He led the police to the other accused, who were in hiding.
Since you think the Chief Minister tried to suppress the Vyapam scam, do you think he should resign?
Obviously, he should. Not only did he try to suppress the Vyapam scam, his government has been harassing me. In the past, whenever I filed an RTI, not only related to Vyapam, but with other issues as well, such as the corruption over state quota in private colleges, the administration would pressure me to withdraw it.
Between 2008 and 2010, I was a senior resident at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College, Indore. It was I who exposed the unethical clinical trial being carried out, because of which the government terminated my service from there in 2010. But the High Court issued orders reinstating me. Instead of reinstating me, the government appealed to a two-member bench of the High Court, where the matter is still pending.
But you do have a government job, don’t you?
In June 2011, I joined the Health Department, for which I was selected through the Public Service Commission. Earlier, I had been filing RTIs etc. from behind the scene. By 2013, my role as a whistle-blower in the Vyapam scam was public knowledge. As the government came under pressure, so did I from the government. It suspended my wife, on Jan 8, 2015.
Where was your wife employed?
She is a doctor with the Health Department. She represented to the government for child-care leave, since our child was just six months old. She went on leave without pay and was suspended. She was subsequently reinstated. Once the case was handed over to the CBI, she was transferred from Mhow, Indore, to Ujjain. So she represented to the government that since her husband was in Indore, she should be assigned to Indore. However, what the government did was to transfer me from Indore, where I was at the Regional Health and Family Welfare Training Institute, to Dhar, which was where she too was transferred then.
Are you in Dhar now?
Dhar is from where Vikram Verma, who had been a sports minister in the National Democratic Alliance government, hails. His wife is a two-time MLA from there. On July 17, 2015, I had filed a complaint to the CBI against Verma’s daughter, who had been illegally transferred from a private medical college in Ghaziabad to a government medical college in Bhopal. Here we are facing threats, yet it transfers us to a place which is the turf of a former minister against whom we had lodged a complaint. On Friday, August 7, though, the High Court asked the government to prove in two weeks that our transfer is not mala fide.
Do you still receive anonymous threat calls?
(Laughs) All the time.
But didn’t the RSS come to your rescue? After all, you were the vice-president of the Indore chapter of Arogya Bharti, which is the medical wing of the RSS.
There could be two reasons for it. One, the person under whose influence I joined the RSS was one Pramod Jha. The RSS transferred him in 2013 to Dhar, of which he is now the district head. The local leadership in Indore began to marginalise me. It is possible I was marginalised because I was close to Jha. But the other reason could be that the RSS didn’t want to convey the impression that it was encouraging me and other whistle-blowers to oust Chief Minister Chouhan.
Who were the other RSS workers associated in exposing Vyapam?
There is Ashish Chaturvedi, an RSS vistarak in Gwalior and Abhay Chopra, who is part of the Hindu Jagran Manch. All three of us fought the battle to expose Vyapam, shoulder-to-shoulder.
How did this marginalisation manifest itself?
The Sangh’s headquarters in Indore would often invite me to its programmes and baithaks [meetings]. This stopped by 2013-end. But Pramod Jha did call me a couple of times and appreciated what I had done.
You seem to be puzzled by the fact that the RSS doesn’t invite you all?
Yes, the RSS hasn’t supported us as it has Sadhavi Pragya and others [who are accused in the so-called Hindutva terror cases]. The Sangh has lakhs of volunteers. Among them are also the Chief Minister Chouhan and Sudhir Sharma, who is another accused, in fact, one of the kingpins in the scam. Why is it that the Sangh is supporting them and Pragya, not us?
I never felt the RSS was behind me and others who were trying to expose the Vyapam scam. In the last few years, all three of us – Chaturvedi, Chopra and me – have been living with a deep feeling of insecurity. Why should we feel this way? After all, the RSS remote controls the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. Why haven’t we received the protection of the RSS?
Do you think Sadhvi Pragya gave the RSS a bad name?
Pragya or Colonel Purohit [accused in the Malegaon blast case] are not the face of the RSS, nor is it that the RSS shakhas preach terrorism. What the Sangh did was to marginalise the extremists…Sangh unko mukt kar chukka tha (the Sangh had liberated them from itself). Yet, when these people were entangled in court cases, they were assisted.
The public prosecutor [in the Malegaon blast case, Rohini Salian] recently went public saying the NIA was mounting pressure on her to go slow on the case. How come the RSS isn’t protecting us from facing the heat?
Well, perhaps the reason could be that Colonel Purohit and Pragya were bombing Muslims and you targeted your own.
That is precisely the question the Sangh has to ask: Does it stand with people like Pragya and Colonel Purohit, Chouhan and Sudhir Sharma, or with us? Here we are, risking our lives to expose the scam, yet, how come neither Panchjanya nor the Organiser has written anything on us?
In other words, the RSS doesn’t want the Vyapam scam to be exposed.
No, no, the RSS doesn’t want to convey the impression that it wants Chouhan removed.
Wouldn’t it have….
The RSS should have removed Chouhan. Look at the case of Ajay Shankar Mehta, an RSS person accused in the Vyapam scam. He was the vice-president of the Jan Abhiyan Parishad, which acts as the link between the government and NGOs, and had a ministerial rank. The government lawyer, that is, the prosecutor, didn’t even oppose his bail application. The government is helping the accused. Even the chief minister’s personal assistant and his daughter, both accused, have gained.
But a lot many haven’t been granted bail.
Yes, those from poor families, the poor children, their bail applications the government opposes. But those who are rich, they are being let free.
So the RSS-BJP combine has taken the side of the rich?
I think (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat and Narendra Modi should speak and make clear their stand on Vyapam. They said Manmohan Singh was Maun Mohan Singh, but both Modi and Bhagwat haven’t said a word on Vyapam.
What kind of statement would you want them to issue?
Lakhs of Sangh activists want to know their position on the Vyapam issue.
Maybe, the RSS-BJP is silent because it has sided with the rich?
This is how it appears.
Don’t you think the RSS gives too much importance to Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, etc., at the expense of issues which affect the lives of common people?
There is no doubt that the Vyapam issue is more important than Article 370 or Uniform Civil Code or Ram Setu. This is an issue affecting the future of lakhs and lakhs of young people. I am not saying other issues are not important. On these the RSS speaks a lot. Why is it quiet on Vyapam?
The youth have understood all this. Silence can have serious repercussions. Why do you think Manmohan Singh lost? He brought in so many important legislations, but he never spoke on certain important issues. You shouldn’t remain silent, you should speak. Otherwise, the BJP-RSS will also have to pay for it.
Are you still in the RSS?
If the RSS doesn’t invite us to its shakhas or baithaks, it doesn’t mean I and others have left the Sangh.
So has the Sangh left you?
We will change it from inside. My soul is still in the Sangh.
From your answers to questions pertaining to Pragya and Colonel Purohit, it seems their actions have adversely affected the image of the RSS
It certainly has. But there is also another issue. The RSS-BJP says it doesn’t pursue dynastic politics, as the Congress does, nor does its politics revolve around a personality. So when Chouhan’s image has been so terribly dented, isn’t there an honest person in the organisation who can replace him? Why is it still persisting with him?