ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding Vyapam

The Vyapam scam of Madhya Pradesh is not the familiar story of exam cheating. It is about the mutation of exam cheating into a service industry facilitated by the State. Understanding it requires a look at the political economy of a hollowed-out system of education. The scam found a congenial climate in the sociopolitical reality of Madhya Pradesh.

If we had specialists in corruption studies, Vyapam would have given them a new realm to explore. This is not because of its scale, measured in terms of money or the number of people involved, or the length of time over which the scam stayed in the shade of urban gossip. The electronic media are treating Vyapam as a unique scam because of the serial deaths associated with it. This dimension should interest and worry the judiciary. However, blocking investigation by destroying evidence and killing witnesses is a familiar method in cases of corruption. This method has come into use in Vyapam on a scale that makes Madhya Pradesh (MP) look like Guatemala. But MP is not Guatemala, nor is Vyapam a story of drug mafia. It is a story of education, and that is what makes Vyapam so remarkable and worthy of deeper social—not merely police—inquiry. The public scandal surrounding Vyapam (acronym for Vyavasayik Pareeksha Mandal or Board of Professional Examination) concerns the sale of seats in medical colleges and jobs in the lower order of government service. Though the idea of sale is not new, its strategy in the Vyapam case is new in the pervasive planning it involved. Instead of outright sale of seats in medical colleges, Vyapam enabled exam cheating to evolve into a service industry. Cheating became a facility to be purchased by youth; those who hesitate to buy the facility dread they may be taking a risk.

The logic of Vyapam alters the moral codes that govern competition for scarce opportunities. The investigation that is now underway will hopefully reveal the networks—of individuals and institutions—that enabled Vyapam’s fraudulent operations to be sustained year after year. But how these networks became so robust and why the fraud did not cause a public outrage or political stir are questions that demand a wider search for answers. Institutional decay in education and a political equilibrium that defies ideological categories are two important clues for understanding Vyapam. The last quarter century has seen radical changes in state–market relations across the country. How these changes unfolded in the specific sociopolitical landscape of MP needs to be taken into account. Before we embark on drawing this larger picture, let us first recognise the change in the meaning of cheating implicit in Vyapam.

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