He stayed at the Lalit Grand Palace, the five-star heritage hotel in Srinagar, Kashmir, overlooking the Dal lake, and got Z-plus security cover during visits to different parts of Kashmir. For months, Kiran Patel, from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, conned the Jammu and Kashmir administration by posing as additional director (planning and strategy) in the prime minister’s office (PMO).
He made multiple visits to J&K and even held meetings with bureaucrats, suggesting ideas to boost horticulture, especially apple production. He was arrested on March 2 after the J&K Police got a tip-off from Delhi that he was a conman. He had two accomplices, Amit Pandya and Jai Sitapara, both from Gujarat; Patel had introduced them as “officials from the PMO”. However, they were not arrested as the police felt they might have been misled by the conman.
Patel’s arrest has come as a relief to security agencies, but the embarrassment persists. More significantly, the incident is seen as a serious security lapse in the militancy-hit Union territory. Vijay Kumar, additional director general of police, said the con was not the result of an intelligence lapse, but a “mistake which is being investigated”. He said the police do not provide security cover based on verbal communiques (such requests usually come in writing from the PMO). “Any officer who ordered security for the conman will be dealt with,” he said.
The J&K Police said that he confessed during questioning at Nishat police station. A team from the Gujarat Police’s anti-terror squad has also arrived in Kashmir to investigate the incident. The investigators have recovered forged orders and documents from Patel’s possession. The police also seized 10 fake visiting cards and two mobile phones from him. Patel has been charged under five sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to cheating and forgery (419, 420, 467, 468 and 471).
Patel’s first visit to Kashmir is said to have been in October 2022. Before the visit, he called Manzoor Bhat, the BJP’s media in-charge in Kashmir, and told him that he was calling from the PMO and that “PM sahib” was keen to hold elections in J&K. Three weeks later, he called Bhat again and told him he was in Srinagar. They met and Bhat recommended that he discuss the matter of elections with BJP state president Ravinder Raina.
In subsequent visits to Kashmir, Patel succeeded in introducing himself as a PMO official to an IAS officer and a deputy commissioner in south Kashmir, and the other “PMO officials” joined him. The deputy commissioner allegedly arranged the Z-plus security and a stay at Lalit Grand Palace. The police are investigating whether the officer was part of the con or helped Patel by mistake.
After getting security cover, which came with a bulletproof SUV and two Sashastra Seema Bal escort cars, Patel embarked on his tour of Kashmir. On February 17, he tweeted a photograph from the Aman Setu (a bridge connecting Kashmir with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir at Uri). On February 18 and 20, he posted pictures of the Gulmarg Ski Resort. At Gulmarg, Patel claimed that the government had tasked him with improving hotel facilities in the area. He visited Doodhpathri, a tourist spot in Budgam, where the tehsildar and officials from the tourism department accompanied him. On February 22, he posted photos of devotees at Srinagar’s Shankaracharya temple and the next day, he tweeted a video showing his security detail, set to patriotic songs. He also visited Shopian and Pulwama districts in south Kashmir.
Police officers got suspicious about him because he had no knowledge of security operations and the working of different branches of the police. He also had no idea about the location of the PMO. Some officers had become suspicious quite early, but could not muster the courage to challenge him. Patel had also reinforced his ‘authority’ by scolding officials at Doodhpathri and taking credit for changes in the administration.
Back in Gujarat, Patel was known in political circles as someone with contacts in the government, but not many knew how. One of his accomplices in the Kashmir con, Amit, is the son of Hitesh Pandya, who is a public relations officer in the Gujarat chief minister’s office. Pandya, 73, was a journalist with a Gujarati newspaper and has been working for the government since 2001 (on contract). He told THE WEEK that his son had not done anything unlawful, willingly. “Maybe by mistake, but not intentionally,” he said.
“I spoke to him (Amit) when he returned from Srinagar and he said he had gone to Kashmir with Patel as Patel had told him he has to get some things done in Kashmir and he could join him,” said Pandya. He said that Amit and Patel first met when they worked in the same firm a long time ago. He also added that Patel had tricked “bigger” people than him and his son.
There are three cases against Patel in different police stations in Gujarat. A retired deputy superintendent of police filed a case against Patel after cheques given by him, to the tune of Rs78 lakh, bounced. Sources said Patel was jailed for a couple of days in another case. He had allegedly borrowed over Rs1 crore and defaulted. Patel also allegedly refused to pay a decoration agency after availing its services for a garba event. A former BJP MLA from Vadodara had helped him organise the event. This case was settled out of court. Since the news of Patel’s arrest went public, farmers in north Gujarat, too, have claimed that they were cheated by Patel.
It is said that when victims accused him of cheating, he would come to meet them in a beacon-fitted car, thus silencing them. What he does for a living is unknown, but he has been labelled a “fixer”. His wife, Malini, had earlier said that her husband was an engineer and had gone to J&K for work. But, later, she stopped talking to the media. Patel reportedly told a diamond merchant from Surat to invest in Kashmir and promised to get him the necessary clearances.
It is said that Patel showed photographs of himself with top BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, to gain the trust of his targets. He also boasts of his educational qualifications―on Twitter, he is “PhD (Commonwealth Uni, Virginia)”, “MBA (IIM Trichy)” and “MTech (Computer Science)”. He has connections with local politicians from Ahmedabad’s Maninagar, once represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and is said to have been secretary to a minister in Gujarat.
Ahmedabad police commissioner Sanjay Srivastava told THE WEEK that the cases against Patel in Gujarat were not Ahmedabad-specific. But, he added that there was nothing stopping people from filing more complaints against Patel and assured that such complaints would be investigated. Srivastava said that in the current case, the main investigation was being done in J&K.
Meanwhile, Atul Vaidya, a former functionary of the Vishva Hindu Parishad in Gujarat, has claimed that he informed the “concerned people in Delhi” about Patel. He said that he got suspicious after Patel told him that he was working for the PMO. Vaidya believes that it was his tip that led to Patel’s arrest in J&K.
Rehan Ahmed, Patel’s lawyer, told THE WEEK that his client told him the security cover they got was for his accomplices, who are “politically connected”. While details about Amit and his father have come to light, not much is known about Sitapara. Moreover, according to sources, a third person, Trilok Singh from Rajasthan, was also staying with Patel at the five-star hotel and impersonating a PMO official. It is learned that one of his accomplices has turned approver.
The conman’s “links to the BJP” has given the opposition much-needed ammunition. Pawan Khera, the Congress’s media and publicity head, demanded to know on whose instruction Patel was given Z-plus security. He also asked how his movements in Kashmir went unnoticed for months by the BJP’s IT Cell, when he had been posting on social media. Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah called the J&K administration incompetent; former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said conmen were enjoying government patronage, while Kashmiris were being harassed.