NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court has ordered a federal investigation into a massive corruption scandal in a central state, following the death of dozens of people linked to the scam.
The scandal has cast a shadow on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which swept to power last year on the promise of clean governance.
The scandal came to light two years ago when police found eight people with fake identities impersonating candidates who were to take a medical school entrance test in Indore city in Madhya Pradesh.
Since 2007, it has been found that thousands of people had paid bribes to middlemen, bureaucrats and politicians to rig tests for government jobs or seats in medical colleges in the state, whose government is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It was the July 4 death of national television journalist Akshay Singh that turned the national spotlight on another aspect of the scandal: the mysterious death of about two dozen people who were suspects, witnesses or investigators in the case.
Singh died soon after he interviewed the parents of a student who had received a college seat and whose body was found on a railway track days ago.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to take charge of the probe in the multimillion-dollar scam and the deaths linked to it.
Calls for a federal investigation grew, following the deaths and allegations the BJP government was influencing the state's probe.
Independent political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said although India is no stranger to corruption scandals, the latest scam has shocked the country.
“We have seen a huge amount of money being involved in scandals. But this is the first time when we have had so many people associated with the scam dying mysteriously," Chowdhury said.
'So-called' suicides, accidents
"Officially, the government says the number is 23, unofficially that number is 46. More and more, the dirt is coming out about so-called suicides, so-called accidents, people who were either witnesses, people who were so-called accused," Chowdhury said.
About 2,000 people have been arrested in connection with the fraud, including a state minister and other bureaucrats.
But lawyer Vivek Tankha, who represents three whistleblowers, said these detentions reveal little about who is behind the scandal.
“They are victims. But the people who are the real conspirators, who set up this whole system of corruption, nepotism and illegal admission and services, and were aiding and benefiting out of it, they have not been touched," Tankha said.
The opposition Congress Party accuses the BJP of shielding top state leaders. It said the governor of Madhya Pradesh state is among those linked by investigators to the scandal.
The state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, denies the allegations, saying he and other officials did not benefit from the fraud.
Chouhan said he welcomes an independent probe.
The BJP-led central government is not linked to the job scandal, which took place before it came to power last year. But it is being blamed for allegedly shielding the state leaders.