Despite their antagonistic political affiliations, Madhya Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 56, and governor Ram Naresh Yadav, 88, a former Congressman from Uttar Pradesh, have always enjoyed a good rapport with each other. This week their bonding intensified as the Opposition began calling for both to resign, alleging that they were involved in a huge exam scam.

On Wednesday, the Congress, the main Opposition party, boycotted the governor’s inaugural address in the assembly on the first day of its budget session. Later, Congress legislators demanded that the chief minister and the governor resign, which BJP members claimed was an unconstitutional demand. Amid the din, the speaker adjourned the house.

On the same day, the local media reported that a special investigation team had recommended last week to the high court that the governor be made an accused in the scam. The team has been appointed by the high court to monitor the probe into a scam involving the Professional Exam Board. The probe is being conducted by a special task force. This board is responsible for conducting tests for admission into the state’s medical colleges and for recruitment to government departments.

The scam surfaced in July 2013, when the Indore police arrested a doctor suspected of taking money from candidates in return for arranging for supposedly better-prepared impersonators to take the tests. The scam also involves other irregularities, such as manipulating the seating arrangement. The Chief Justice of the Jabalpur High Court, A M Khanwilkar, will now have to decide what to do with the SIT’s report.

The chief minister and governor responded to the attacks as if in one voice. “Resigning under pressure is out of the question,” the governor told Dainik Bhaskar. “The governor’s post is constitutional. For any action against a governor, the president’s approval is mandatory.”

In the assembly, the chief minister said: “The Congress has no right to seek his resignation based on mere allegations.”

Under pressure

The Congress’s calls for the governor to resign follows a rare show of unity by its leaders, who held a joint press conference on February 16 at which they accused the chief minister of tampering with evidence to save his skin and asked him to resign. They alleged that the chief minister had manipulated data in an Excel spreadsheet with the names of those involved in the scam. The original spreadsheet had the name 'Shivraj Singh' in 48 places but these had been deleted, they claimed. The spreadsheet had been recovered from the hard disk of the exam board’s former systems analyst, Nitin Mahindra, who is in jail for his alleged role in the scam.

The press meet was addressed jointly by Congress parliamentarians Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, the state party chief Arun Yadav, leader of the opposition in the assembly Satya Deo Katare and member Suresh Pachori.

They had not named the governor at the press meet, but two days later, in the assembly, called upon him also to resign because they claimed he hid the fact that his son, Shailesh, and his personal assistant had both taken money in the Raj Bhavan premises to get candidates in a government recruitment test cleared fraudulently.

Shailesh’s name figured in the chargesheet filed by the special task force on February 9 in the chief judicial magistrate court in Bhopal in connection with recruitment of contract teachers through the exam board. One of the touts arrested in the case had revealed that he had handed over a list of 10 candidates with Rs 3 lakh to Shailesh in the Raj Bhavan, the chargesheet says. Subsequently, the task force sent a notice to the Raj Bhavan address asking Shailesh to depose before it, but security officers declined to accept it.

When the special investigation team head Justice Chandresh Bhushan learnt about the Raj Bhavan’s refusal to accept the notice, he directed that it be sent to Shailsh’s permanent address in Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. He also said that if the accused did not cooperate and there was enough evidence against him, he should be arrested. The governor’s officer on special duty, Dhanraj Yadav, is already in jail charged with taking money for getting bogus candidates appointed as contract teachers.

In view of the possible involvement of the governor’s son and personal assistant in the scam, the SIT has recommended to the high court that the governor be made a co-accused under Section 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code. This section provides for equal punishment to the co-accused for entering into a criminal conspiracy with the accused. The SIT is of the view that the governor was aware of the misdeeds of his son and personal assistant yet did not act against them.

“The manner in which my son’s name is being dragged into the scam is a part of petty politics,” the governor told Dainik Bhaskar. But the arrest of his officer on special duty and the possible involvement of his son in the scam has shaken Yadav, who is already ailing.

In the assembly, the chief minister did not say anything about the governor’s son. His former personal assistant is accused in the scam but is absconding.

Old friends

The Congress has been unhappy about the governor’s closeness to the chief minister ever since he took office, in September 2011. “He has seldom acted on memoranda that we have submitted to him over the years against the omissions and commissions of the state government,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named.

He recalled that the governor had embarrassed the party during a trust vote in the state assembly two years ago by allowing the deputy leader of the Congress Opposition to defect to the BJP.

“The startling revelations in the scam explain why the governor has been so generous towards the chief minister,” the Congressman said.

The chief minister has reciprocated the governor’s generosity. When the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre in May, people thought that Yadav, like other governors appointed by the previous Congress-led regime would be asked to vacate the Raj Bhavan. But those familiar with the matter say that the chief minister prevailed upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow Yadav to stay. His term ends in September 2016. After Modi was sworn in, Yadav was quick to congratulate him with a bouquet.

Nevertheless, the governor had almost made up his mind to resign following a 30-minute meeting with union minister Uma Bharti on February 17, said sources in the BJP. Media reports speculated that she had gone there to communicate home minister Rajnath Singh’s desire that Yadav step down.

Uma Bharti is maintaining an uncharacteristic silence over the issue, perhaps because her name has also cropped up in the scam. But the Congress alleges that the chief minister had his name replaced with Uma Bharti’s in the incriminating spreadsheet.

But the next day, the governor was back in a defiant mood, apparently after being assured that the chief minister and the BJP would back him to the hilt.