Srinagar: The Gujarat police has taken custody of Ahmedabad-based BJP worker Kiran Patel, days after he was arrested by the J&K Police for apparently pulling off one of the biggest cons in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.
Patel, who is wanted in at least four cases in his home state Gujarat, was arrested last month from The Lalit, a five-star hotel in Srinagar, and charged under various sections of fraud, impersonation and cheating.
According to The Indian Express, Patel is believed to have made four visits to Kashmir from October last year during which he stayed in Kashmir for 12 days, including on March 2 when he was nabbed from the Srinagar hotel.
During these visits, Patel met two IAS officers – Baseer ul Haq Chaudhary, a 2015 batch officer who is presently serving as the Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama district in the volatile south Kashmir, and Ming Sherpa, a 2017 IAS officer deputed as Managing Director (MD) of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC).
The RSS connection
Trilok Singh Chauhan, a Rajasthan-based functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is believed to have played a key role in facilitating Patel’s visits and his stay in Kashmir. Chauhan has served in J&K as a ‘vistarak’, a junior pracharak or a RSS member who is allowed to marry and live with his family.
Patel, who is believed to have organised RSS and BJP events and rallies in Gujarat, and Chauhan have known each other since 2016. Before coming to Kashmir, Patel reportedly asked him to share some contacts of J&K officials and the Valley’s business fraternity.
According to reports, Chauhan has been visiting Kashmir since 2006 and he was previously in touch with the Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama who has been questioned by the J&K police in connection with the probe against Patel.
“In July 2022, Chauhan had come to J&K for the Amarnath Yatra and was stuck due to landslides. A local photographer introduced him to Pulwama DC,” The Indian Express reported, quoting police sources.
Chauhan shared the number of the Pulwama DC with Patel and also spoke with him “to facilitate his (Patel’s) travels. Trilok told the DC that Patel is a connected man and knows the top leadership in the BJP,” The Print reported.
On his first, three-day visit to Kashmir on October 25, Patel was accompanied by his wife and daughter when J&K Police Senior Superintendent of Police Zulfikar, reportedly on a telephonic request from DC Chaudhary, allotted him security cover comprising a bullet-proof vehicle, escort vehicles and over a dozen security personnel. The SSP has also been questioned in the case.
During this visit, Patel met the media in-charge of the BJP in Kashmir, Manzoor Bhat, as was reported by The Wire, some journalists and Gauhar Hussain, a Station House Officer in Srinagar. Pictures were also taken after the meeting, one of which is in The Wire‘s possession.
Patel’s second, three-day trip started on February 6 when he was accompanied by Amit Pandya, son of Hitesh Pandya, a former journalist who served as a Public Relations Officer in the Gujarat Chief Minister’s Office.
During this visit, Patel went to Gulmarg and Aharbal waterfalls, and also drove down to Uri in north Kashmir along the Line of Control where he clicked pictures near Aman Setu and posted some of them on his social media. It is not clear whether Amit accompanied him in all these visits.
The J&K Police have arrested Amit in the case, according to The Hindu, and his father has since submitted his resignation in the aftermath of the controversy, but it was not immediately known whether his resignation has been accepted by the Gujarat CMO.
The act falls apart
It was on Patel’s third, four-day visit to Kashmir beginning February 24 that his act started to fall apart. On this visit, besides Amit Pandya, he was accompanied by Jay Sitapara, a Gujarati businessman, and Dr Hardik Chandana, a Gujarati doctor.
Beaming with the confidence of having the civilian and police administration at his disposal, Patel crossed the proverbial line by chairing ‘official’ meetings where he flaunted his fake credentials of being an ‘Additional Director’ in the PMO.
Patel made several visits to south Kashmir’s Pulwama and central Kashmir’s Budgam districts, and he is reported to have discussed plans for the revival of Centaur Hotel with Ming Sherpa, MD, JKTDC, setting up cold storage facilities for apples and hosting a doctors’ conference.
During the third visit, Patel also visited Doodhpathri health resort in Budgam district. As was first reported by The Wire, Fakhruddin Hamid, the Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, launched his own background check after becoming suspicious to discover that no such official by the name of Kiran Patel worked in the PMO.
Patel had threatened to get Hamid transferred when some officials didn’t turn up for a meeting chaired by Patel in Doodhpathri health resort. Hamid later informed J&K police. By the time Patel left Kashmir on February 28, the J&K Police had confirmed that Patel was impersonating as a PMO official.
On March 2, the J&K Police got a tip-off about the arrival of Patel in Kashmir. Two possibilities were explored for making the arrest. One was to nab Patel at the airport itself but, given his security cover, the idea was shelved to avoid any ugly situation.
A team of J&K Police led by Superintendent of Police (East) Shree Ram later visited The Lalit, where Patel was staying, and arrested him. Amit, Sitapara and Dr Chandana are believed to have footed the bills for Patel’s accommodation and flights after his cover was blown.
However, the manner in which Patel took the government machinery in Jammu and Kashmir for a ride spotlights the fear and uncertainty prevailing among not just the ordinary people but also the civilian and police administration in J&K in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370.
When Jammu and Kashmir was a state, individuals were granted security cover after a duly-vetted process which involved the local and national security and intelligence agencies with a system of multiple checks and balances. The procedure has reportedly changed post 2019 with the authority to grant security cover vested with the head of J&K’s Home Department.
A preliminary probe has found that even the new procedure for granting security cover to individuals or officials coming to J&K on official visits from New Delhi or other parts of the country was not followed in Patel’s case. Interestingly, the administration has not yet acted against the two senior IAS officers or a police officer who were involved in facilitating Patel’s Kashmir visits.
On March 29, the J&K administration ordered Vijay Kumar Bidhuri, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, to probe the visits of Patel to Kashmir and submit a report within seven days. When contacted, Bidhuri refused to confirm whether the report had been submitted.