In July this year, a video clip purportedly showing a top Madhya Pradesh bureaucrat P.C. Meena in a compromising position with a woman went viral across the state’s political, bureaucratic and media circles. Within days, Meena, a 1984-batch IAS officer serving as the additional chief secretary (general administration) with a year of service left, was shunted out as director of the Tribal Research and Development Institute. The ‘sex video’ sent shock waves across the state’s power corridors and MP chief secretary S.R. Mohanty ordered a probe. Sources tells Outlook that intelligence inputs gathered over the next month suggested that several top-ranking politicians and bureaucrats had similar skeletons in their cupboards but a common link to an organised honey trap racket was still premature to conclude.
On September 17, Harbhajan Singh, an Indore Municipal Corporation officer filed a police complaint of blackmail and extortion against two women, Aarti Dayal (29) and Monica Yadav (18), who had allegedly threatened to release his smut tape to the press. While Singh was suspended owing to alleged misdemeanor, his complaint set off a domino effect that has now unsettled the entire political and bureaucratic brass of MP.
A total of six people have so far been arrested in the honey trap scandal. Besides Dayal and Yadav, the accused include Shweta Vijay Jain (49), the alleged kingpin of the racket, Shweta Swapnil Jain (39) and Barkha Soni (34), and their driver Om Prakash Kori (45).
Shweta Vijay Jain was an office bearer of the BJP’s youth wing till a few years ago. Shweta Swapnil Jain too had BJP connections and, since her arrest, various photographs of her attending the party’s functions have been in circulation.
Soni, on the other hand, is married to Amit Soni, who was an officer bearer of the Congress’s state unit and associated with the party’s IT cell. Police suspect it was Amit who helped the gang get equipment to record the sex videos.
5,000 video and audio clips, WhatsApp messages, photographs and diaries related to the MP scandal have been recovered so far.
During their interrogation, the women made revelations that shocked the investigators—chief among them being Ruchi Vardhan Mishra, the first woman senior superintendent of police (SSP), Indore. As big names tumbled out, V.K. Singh, director general of police (DGP) set up an eight-member special investigation team, under deputy inspector general (criminal investigation), D. Sriniwas Verma. However, within 24 hours, Verma was replaced by additional director general (counter intelligence) Sanjeev Shami, as the SIT chief. Sources said the appointment of Shami, who earlier headed the state’s anti-terrorism squad, was made after “doubts were raised within a section of the government on whether Verma, a relatively junior officer, will be able to withstand the kind of pressures typical in such a sensitive case”.
Sources say that reports of a flat being rented by director general (cyber cell), Purushottam Sharma, in Ghaziabad had also made matters complicated. Sharma had used his discretionary fund to pay the rent for the Ghaziabad flat, but not informed the police headquarters about why he was leasing the apartment or what its purpose was. V.K. Singh later ordered that the flat be vacated. Sharma has blamed “vested interests” for the salacious rumours that have linked the rented flat with the sex racket.
The SIT is currently verifying claims made by the gang and has refused to divulge details of those targeted by the women. A source privy to the investigation says that as many as 5,000 files—video and audio clips, WhatsApp messages, photographs, diaries detailing the money extorted from or promised by the targets etc—have been recovered so far. A large cache of these recoveries has been sent for forensic analysis. There is, a senior officer says, no concrete evidence as yet to link the P.C. Meena sex tape or the Ghaziabad flat rented by Sharma to the honey trap scandal, but “these angles will be looked into”.
An accused being taken into custody.
Prima facie the targets of the scandal, the source says, include a former chief minister of the state, a former governor, a serving and a former Union minister, at least half-a-dozen former ministers in MP as well as a former minister in the Chhattisgarh government, a state BJP office bearer who wielded enormous power till a few years ago, son of a sitting Union minister, some sitting MLAs, nearly two dozen IAS and IPS officers in MP, some businessmen and media persons.
The alleged involvement of a large number of bureaucrats and senior police personnel in the scandal has also got the central government worried. The Centre’s department of personnel and training has asked the MP government to file a detailed report, at the earliest, about officers who may be under investigation. “We believe more names will come out as we probe further and the racket may not be limited to MP and Chhattisgarh alone. There are already some leads on important people from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra but we are still verifying them,” a source adds.
The BJP which until a few weeks ago was hopeful of toppling the Nath government, is now busy in setting its own affairs in order.
The modus operandi of the gang, police sources say, was “a very simple one”. The two Shweta Jains lured girls from lower middle class families into their gang by promising large sums of money, admissions in colleges (as in the case of Monica Yadav, who may now be made an approver in the case), good accommodation and swanky cars. Call girls were also roped in. “Once they gained confidence of a politician/bureaucrat, they would introduce him to the girls. A club frequently visited by IAS and IPS officers in Bhopal, two posh hotels in Indore and other such locations were among the many places used for these sexual encounters. The girls were given equipment to surreptitiously record the act; like lipsticks, glasses and pens that were fitted with micro-cameras. Sex chats on WhatsApp were also common,” the source adds.
Another source tells Outlook that the gang managed to “extort crores from their targets”. It is also rumoured that “government contracts, usually connected with departments like agriculture, irrigation, women and child development or SC/ST welfare, were also given to Shweta Vijay Jain who claimed to operate an NGO in Sagar district.” Jain usually passed on any government contract that she got to “contractors who had an experience of handling such projects in return for a hefty commission”. The police are also investigating whether the gang was regularly contacted and encouraged by contractors, companies or businessmen to target specific people in order to blackmail them in return for contracts.
All the speculation clearly point to a deep moral depravity in the state’s political and bureaucratic circles, but can they help the cops get any conviction under the law? “If all we have is consensual sex between adults, there is no case. It is essential that we also prove a quid pro quo. Then we can seek prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act. We are also examining if any woman was forced into the racket or if any of them was a minor when she was first lured into this scandal. This would help us invoke penal provisions related to trafficking and sexual exploitation of trafficked persons,” a source says.
It may be still too premature to speculate whether the investigators will succeed in actually putting any of the accused behind bars in this case that allegedly involves people from the top echelons of government. However, what is certain is the scandal has allowed the Kamal Nath government to breathe easy for a while. Since a majority of politicians allegedly honey-trapped belong to the BJP, the saffron party, which until a few weeks ago was hopeful of toppling the Nath government, is now busy setting its own affairs in order. That’s a political twist to the sex scandal, one that may be equally piquant for the police to look into.