During his first term as Leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly (2010-2013), Ajay Singh (Rahul Bhaiya) had made a name for himself for his aggressive stance against the wrong-doings of the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. But in his second tenure, which began in February this year, not only his performance has been lack-lustre but this month he did something which will haunt his political career for the rest of his life. He collaborated in Chouhan’s clandestine move to get his own man appointed as Lokayukta of the State.
It was kept a closely guarded secret, known only to Chouhan, a few others involved, and Ajay Singh till an official announcement was made late in the night that former MP High Court judge Naresh Kumar Gupta had been appointed as the Lokayukta. Gujarat Governor O P Kohli, who has been holding additional charge of Madhya Pradesh for over a year, was flown in from Gandhinagar next day (October 18). He administered oath of office and secrecy to the new Lokayukta and flew back to Gandhinagar, barely spending a couple of hours in the Madhya Pradesh capital.
The law, rules and procedures were breached in appointment of Justice (Retd) Gupta as the Lokayukta. No panel of names was prepared and no meeting of selectors was held. Chouhan got a single name approved by the High Court Chief Justice and sent an officer to Ajay Singh to get his signature which the 62-year-old Congress leader obliged — all in secrecy. Appointment of Gupta as Lokayukta created another anomaly. Deputy Lokayukta Justice (Retd) U C Maheshwari had been acting as Lokayukta for over a year. Maheshwari was senior to Gupta by six years in the High Court and now Gupta has come to boss over him. A sullen Maheshwari did not attend Gupta’s swearing-in. A day before, he pushed off to Mhow to celebrate Diwali with his family.
Justice (Retd) Gupta was legal advisor to the Chouhan government before he was appointed a High Court judge in 2010. During that period he was said to have helped Chouhan manage some serious scams and had won the trust of Chouhan. According to PCC spokesman K K Mishra, Deputy Lokayukta Maheshwari was probing corruption charges against an influential IAS officer and now the investigation would naturally be taken over by Gupta as Maheshwari’s boss.
Ajay Singh has been receiving a lot of criticism, mainly from his own party men, for his complicity in Chouhan’s nefarious game. Congress Rajya Sabha member and senior lawyer Vivek Tankha wondered how the Chief Justice of the High Court and Leader of Opposition could become party to serious transgression of judicial procedures. Former Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Srinivas Tiwari and several other party leaders felt that Ajay Singh had forfeited the right to lead the Congress party in the Assembly. There are reports that a large number of missives have been sent to the party high command in Delhi about the unseemly conduct of Ajay Singh.
In a facile statement, Ajay Singh said that he did not know anything about gradation of High Court judges; the Chief Justice suggested the name, the Chief Minister sent it to him and he signed. How innocent! Even ninnies would not take his defence seriously.
Deputy Leader of Opposition Bala Bachan, who was acting Leader of Opposition before Ajay Singh was nominated to the post, came out with an observation that Chouhan had been trying to get Justice (Retd) Gupta appointed as Lokayukta for nearly a year; he had sent the officers from the CMO with Gupta’s name to Bala Bachan as many as six times and every time Bala Bachan returned them saying that he would not sign for a single name. Bachan had always insisted on a panel of three names to select from, as per the rules. When Bachan asked for the file so that he could note down his objections, the officers refused to give him the file, Bachan added.