The BJP faces accusations of institutionalised corruption in yet another scandal involving medical colleges.
As controversy over the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh continues, a similar issue has arisen in Kerala. Allegations this time say approval for medical colleges by the Medical Council of India (MCI) is being obtained through bribes. This is according to the report of an internal probe which has been leaked to the media.
Cash for colleges
The scandal alleges that R. S. Vinod – a leader of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha (Youth Front) and state convener of its cooperative cell – accepted a bribe of Rs 5.6 crore (roughly 870,000 USD) from R. Shaji, chairman of the S. R. Educational and Charitable Trust. Shaji paid the money in order to obtain MCI approval for a medical college he wanted to establish in Varkala.
The report alleges Vinod paid the bribe to Satish Nair, a Delhi-based middleman, via a broker based near Kochi. According to the report, Vinod told Shaji that Nair could influence the MCI, having done so in previous instances. Vinod demanded Rs 17 crore (more than 2.63 million USD) in total from Shaji, to guarantee the MCI’s seal of approval.
MCI authorities subsequently came to inspect the college, “contrary to the middleman’s assurance.” This prompted Shaji to complain to the BJP, triggering an internal probe.
BJP denies wrongdoing; Vinod is a ‘lone wolf’
Vinod was expelled from the BJP in mid-July after the report first came to light. According to Firstpost, Vinod admitted accepting money from Shaji to the investigating committee, insisting it was part of a private business transaction.
Since his expulsion from the party, Vinod has publicly alleged a conspiracy behind the probe. He described the report which has appeared in the media as having been “fabricated by commission members K. P. Sreesan and A. K. Nazeer.” He reaffirmed that he was never approached regarding MCI approval for a medical college.
The BJP’s response to the scandal thus far is to present Vinod as a lone wolf. H. Raja, a National Executive Member of the BJP, said “we have zero tolerance towards corruption.” Kummanam Rajasekharan, the president of the BJP in Kerala (who was arrested for spreading fake news on social media earlier this year), said “Vinod has committed a grave mistake.” Rajasekharan previously denied the report existed.
Involvement of state leadership?
One point of particular controversy is how deeply involved the state leadership is in the scandal. Shaji’s testimony purportedly implicates the BJP’s Secretary General in Kerala, M. T. Ramesh, whom Vinod allegedly told Shaji had helped a medical college gain MCI accreditation in similar circumstances. The BJP has defended Ramesh – in the process declaring “only R.S. Vinod had a role in the scam…the party has no role in it.” It is also taking action against National Executive member A. K. Nazeer, who is said to be responsible for the leak of the report to the media.
The ‘lone wolf’ scenario has not gone down well with political opponents of the BJP, however. Many are calling for the investigation to be turned over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). India National Congress (INC) politician Ramesh Chennithala, leader of the opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly, has accused BJP members from the state of “indulging in large-scale corruption”, enabled by “their influence on the Centre.”
Some even allege that a deliberate effort was made to stymie the inquiry. The issue was compounded by the silence of BJP’s national leadership when it was raised in the Lok Sabha.
A CBI probe has been described as “likely.” The bureau is already involved in corruption investigations against the MCI, stemming “right from the days of its former chairman Ketan Dasi.” A probe into the medical college scandal is also being carried out by the Kerala vigilance director.