Afew days ago the name Shivakumar Swamy would have rung bells in only a few closeted circles. But then a PU II Chemistry question paper was leaked - not once, but twice for crying out loud - and Shivakumar became a household name; to be whispered in the presence of harried students and shrill teachers on protest. You see, Shivakumar was the mastermind behind the leak, the Lex Luthor of education scams. And he's still out there...in the shadows, hunted by the CID.
The 65-year-old's rise to the pinnacle of infamy, or at least near enough to the summit to warrant closer inspection, started in the rather prosaic surroundings of Cottonpet, where he cut his teeth in the education sector as headmaster in a government school. By the age of 55, Shivakumar decided it was time to turn his attention to more energetic endavours than moulding young minds and opted for voluntary retirement.
They say most people do the things they've always wanted to do after retiring; if that's the case then he must have really wanted to scam a state, because that's exactly what he did. Shivakumar set about weaving an intricate web of insiders, contacts, fixers, transporters and bureaucrats that would do his bidding as he launched what is arguably the biggest education scam to ever hit Karnataka.
But first he needed an idea, one so ballsy it would make Danny Ocean look like a two-bit hoodlum. Shivakumar realised that he needed to bait prospective customers with a lucrative package, and devised one that would realise parents' dreams and children's ambitions.
He offered 'clients' the whole shebang: He promised them the PU II question paper, which would ensure that the student scored high and got a leg up in the CET exams (whose rankings, in which your PU marks account for 60%, determine the prestige of the professional college one gets in to). He would then tie-up with top colleges in the state to ensure that the wards of his clients got admission (for a phenomenal mark-up of course, an amount anywhere between Rs 15 to 40 lakh). This was done using his network of contacts that trampled through the corridors of power on a daily basis.
He then roped in his nephew, Kiran Kumar, and his son, Dinesh Kumar S (more on his neverending quest for a medical degree later), to help him put the wheels in motion. The trio organised a group of physical education (PE) teachers from across the state, who would essentially be the acquirers of the question papers. Why PE teachers you ask? Because following Shivakumar's logic, they were too intellectually feeble to comprehend the science papers they were leaking. The actual dissemination would be carried out by a cartel of private tutors and agents.
But it hasn't always gone according to plan for Shivakumar. Since 2008 he has been arrested at least five times in connection with leaked question papers, but has never cooled his heels in jail for an extended period.
"He was arrested in 2008 in connection with the leak of a 10th standard question paper, and in 2009 again he was caught by the City Crime Branch [CCB] when he and his team were preparing 30 students for the next day's 12th Physics exam with the actual question paper.
"In 2011 his farmhouse near Tumakuru was raided and he was arrested again by the CCB and Tumakuru police when he oversaw the leak of a 12th standard question paper. He was arrested again in 2013 and 2014 and was jailed for six months. He was also named as one of the accused in the 2012 paper leak scam, alongside a slew of bureaucrats," a police officer closely involved in the current investigation told BM on condition of anonymity.
But is it really that easy to steal, copy, and then leak a board exam paper that is shrouded with multiple layers of security?
"Look, the PU board hires vehicles to take the question papers from the printers to various strong rooms across the state. Shivakumar owns around 20 vehicles used for this job. His vehicles and drivers would transport the papers, along with a PE teacher whose job was to use a broom stick to circumvent the security seals and remove the
question paper en route to the room.
"In case that didn't work, Shivakumar would then use his contacts in the strong rooms, mainly in North Karnataka, to steal the paper from within that sanctum santorum.
This was done days before the exam, and then copies of the paper were passed on to an array of tutors and agents who would then bestow it on the moneyed masses," the officer said.
- Shivkumar has always made sure to keep senior bureaucrats and members of the IPS and IAS onside, and close. It is reported that before his arrest by the CCB in 2013, Shivakumar bought an IGP a watch worth Rs1.5 lakh as a gift: A gift that would serve as a ticking reminder that a favour was owed.
In one incident of extreme blase in 2013, an SP paid Shivakumar for a question paper for his daughter. Shivakumar, who excels in serving above and beyond the call, not only delivered the paper but also made sure that a teacher sat up all night with the SP's daughter in a hotel room tutoring her on the questions in the leaked paper.
Now far removed from his humble roots in Cottonpet, Shivakumar leads a life of luxury dividing his time between his flat in Nandini Layout and a farmhouse in Tumakuru, which he reportedly commutes to and from in one of his five high-end cars. The grapevine is also aquiver with salacious rumours that Shivakumar has an eye for the ladies and has been seen around town with five different 'girlfriends' on his arm. His first wife passed away, and he has since remarried.
His son Dinesh, who plays a pivotal role in his father's grand scheme, however, is less of a shining light and more of sputtering ember. Being his father's son, Dinesh sat for his 12th standard exams in 2001, armed in advance with question papers. Needless to say Dinesh score 94 per cent and landed a medical seat at Siddhartha Medical College in Tumakuru. Of course, once in, he was more at sea than Blackbeard and spent the next 11 years trying to complete his MMBS degree, which should be done in five. Eventually realising that it's pointless to flog a dead horse, or in this case a medical degree, Dinesh dropped out and joined the 'family business'.
Now, as the state government and the PU board scurries around trying to douse the flames of dissent coming from all quarters, Shivakumar is probably sitting somewhere biding his time. After all, he's been here before, and he's always been around after the fallout has receded. He's counting on history repeating itself. This time, however, the leak could turn into a flood that may just carry him away with it.
Shivakumar runs his own 12th tuition classes and organises a session a day before the exam. He charges Rs 50,000 per student and calls in lecturers to help the students pull an all-nighter and prepare to answer the questions on the leaked paper. Then he takes the students to their respective exam centres where lo and behold it's the very same question paper they crammed the night before. Once they've aced the exam, he lands them a seat in a reputed college, for a huge fee of course.