I am being made a scapegoat to save the image of one person at the top. Please tell Modiji, please tell him somehow...
Journalists are bound by duty to go to places that are out of bounds to many. Jail is one such place. And the visit becomes more important if the prisoner is a former minister. Laxmikant Sharma, former Madhya Pradesh technical education minister, was arrested in the Vyapam scam on June 15, 2014. After seven months, on a cold day in January, two journalist friends and I went to meet him at the Bhopal Central Jail.
We reached the jail, about 13km from town, and saw hundreds of relatives and friends of inmates waiting outside. As we moved forward, we were stopped by a sentry. We told him we were journalists and wanted to meet the jail superintendent. With a dreary look, he told us to wait. As we stood outside, he signalled us to get away from the view of the CCTV camera and the main gate.
After an hour, he beckoned us inside. Our phones were taken and kept in custody. One of the peons took us to the chamber of M.R. Patel, the superintendent. After initial niceties and coffee, we told him that we wanted to meet Laxmikant Sharma. He became tense. “I will have to ask if Laxmikantji wants to meet you,” he said, and sent one of his support staff to ask Sharma. After 15 minutes, we were told that Sharma had agreed to meet us.
All three of us had met him before, albeit in better circumstances. Top RSS and BJP leaders, including then party president Rajnath Singh, were regular visitors to his home, and they were always greeted with a warm smile and tasty snacks. On that day, however, silence greeted us. It lingered for a few minutes before I extended my sympathies. I told him I had come to inquire about his well-being. My words made his eyes moist. He composed himself and wiped the tears with a thin towel hanging over his kurta and sweater. I asked him about how he passed his time in jail. “Most of my time is spent doing puja and yoga,” he said.
The jailor kept a watchful eye and we felt uneasy. Sharma, however, had been used to such situations. “It is all poorva janam karma [actions in the past life],” he said. “Please help me get out. It has been more than six months and they are not even giving me bail. My mother is seriously ill and she is being fed through pipes. People who have committed murders have got bail. They go out, commit another murder and come back.”
I then broached the contentious topic, the Vyapam scam. “I am being made a scapegoat in order to save the image of one person at the top,” he said. “They have thrown the entire garbage on me. Why is this that the moment the investigation of one case ends, another case is heaped on me?”
He said his family had been struggling to collect the resources to fight the cases in so many courts. “Please somehow convey to Modiji that this case is very different from what it appears from outside. One person is trying to portray himself as Mr Clean at the expense of so many others. Please tell Modiji, please tell him somehow….’’
After half an hour, the jailor began to get restless and we decided to move out.