When the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court last Thursday that a forensic laboratory had found that a hard disk seized as evidence from the main accused in the Vyapam scam had not been tampered with, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan described it as “triumph of truth”.

However, if the premier investigating agency maintains its stand at the CBI special court in Bhopal that is hearing Vyapam scam cases, Union minister Uma Bharti may need to answer some tough questions. This is because if the hard disk has not been tampered with, an Excel sheet in the crucial piece of evidence lists Bharti, a former chief minister of the state, against the names of several illegal appointees in the scam.

The scandal pertains to alleged payoffs for jobs and recruitment at the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, which conducts exams for medical officers, constables, teachers and auditors for the state government.

In a petition before the Supreme Court last year, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and Vyapam scam whistleblowers Ashish Kumar Chaturvedi, Prashant Pandey and Dr Anand Rai alleged that an Excel sheet in the hard disk that had the word “CM” against the name of at least 40 illegal appointees had been tampered with. According to the petitioners, the Madhya Pradesh police removed the “CM” references from the list and replaced them with that of Uma Bharti and entries titled “Raj Bhawan”.

On Thursday, the CBI counsel and solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told the apex court that forensics tests of the electronic storage device had found that it had not been tampered with.

The Congress said that the BJP’s celebrations are pre-mature.

If there has been no tampering, said Congress spokesman KK Mishra in Bhopal, will the CBI investigate other BJP leaders such as Uma Bharti, late Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief KS Sudarshan and RSS leader Suresh Soni whose names figured in the Excel sheet?

About the scam

The Vyampam scam first emerged in 2013, with reports of candidates seeking government jobs and admission in medical colleges allegedly paying bribes to government officials, who in turn allowed imposters to take the entrance tests.

At that time, Madhya Pradesh Special Task Force seized a hard disk from Vyapam’s chief system analyst Nitin Mahindra’s computer.

Prashant Pandey, one of the whistleblowers in the case, who had assisted the Special Task Force as a forensic cyber expert, had a copy of the contents of Mahindra’s hard disk on a pen drive. Pandey later fell out with the Special Task Force and submitted the pen drive with its contents to Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. Pandey claimed that the contents of the pen drive were the untampered Excel sheets from the hard disk that had been seized as evidence.

In their petition before the apex court, the petitioners claimed that Madhya Pradesh Special Task Force sleuths, directed by senior police officers in Indore, had substituted at least 40 instances of the word “CM” in the original Excel sheet with that of Uma Bharti in 23 entries.

In an affidavit filed in February last year, Singh had made the same allegation in court but the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which was monitoring the Vyapam cases at that time, dismissed it as baseless.

Singh and the whistleblowers then moved the apex court, which, last year, directed the CBI to take over the investigations into the scam. The Supreme Court had been monitoring the investigations since. The CBI then decided to send the hard disk for a fresh examination to the Hyderabad-based Central Forensic Science Laboratory. The laboratory’s report was submitted in a sealed envelope to the apex court in November.

In the Supreme Court

On Thursday, the Supreme Court told the investigating agency to submit the sealed laboratory report before the trial court instead, and said that it would not monitor the scam further as investigations in most cases of the 170 cases associated with the scam had been completed. It also asked the CBI to conclude the investigation into the 37 remaining cases within three months.

The lawyer for the petitioners, Vivek Tankha, said that his clients would now approach the trial court.

“We will present our case [against the CBI contention of no tampering] in the trial court,” said Tankha. “Digvijaya Singh will file fresh petition in the court next month.”

Uma Bharti connection

Uma Bharti’s name first surfaced in connection to the Vyapam scam in December 2013. At that time, an angry Bharti not only pleaded innocence but also demanded a CBI probe into the scam to expose what she said was a scam bigger than the fodder scam of Bihar. Rattled by her aggression, Chief Minister Chouhan sent Madhya Pradesh Director General of Police to Bharti’s home in Bhopal to placate her. That was when her name as an accused was dropped.

In July 2015, Bharti said that she feared for her life, a statement that came when deaths of people connected to the Vyapam scam were occuring with alarming regularity. However, Bharti has not commented on the scam since the CBI took over the probe later that year.

Congress officials say that the party was not interested in highlighting Bharti’s alleged complicity in the scam earlier as it believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might not be interested in bailing out a beleaguered Chouhan in view of the not-so-cordial relationship between the two leaders.

However, in the past year, Chouhan has gone out of his way to ingratiate himself to the prime minister. He has frequently invited Modi to Madhya Pradesh and lionised him as God’s gift to India and as Yug Purush (man of an era). Chouhan’s tactics seem to have worked, said Congress leaders. A large section of BJP leaders also share this view.