Ghaziabad Police have arrested a self-styled godman, Swami Pratibhanand, in connection with the murder of real estate baron and BSP leader Deepak Bhardwaj in 2013. Pratibhanand had been absconding since the murder. Delhi Police had earlier arrested seven persons and said the conspiracy was hatched by the victim’s younger son, Nitesh, and an advocate, Baljeet Singh Sherawat.
However, Pratibhanand, in his disclosure statement, has now alleged that another close family member was involved in the conspiracy, prompting Delhi Police to have a fresh look at the case. SP (City), Ghaziabad, Akash Tomar confirmed that they had arrested Machendra Nath alias Pratibhanand, who carried a reward of Rs 1 lakh. “He was arrested on Friday from the railway station. We have recovered a .32 bore pistol and cartridges from his possession,” he said.
During questioning, Pratibhanand claimed he used to sell ayurvedic medicines at a temple when he came in contact with lawyer Sherawat, who then put him in touch with Nitesh. “Nitesh was not happy as Bhardwaj was planning to leave his mother and marry another woman. Sherawat roped in Pratibhanand, who then contacted Purushottam Rana and Sunil Mann. They wanted to stop Bhardwaj from marrying the woman and preparing a will in her favour,” said Vinod Kumar Pandey, SHO, Sihani Gate police station.
Bhardwaj had contested and lost the Lok Sabha elections from West Delhi constituency in 2009. At the time, he had declared assets of around Rs 600 crore. He was shot dead inside his south Delhi farmhouse on March 26, 2013, by Mann and Rana, who were later arrested. Others involved in the crime were subsequently arrested, but Pratibhanand remained on the run.
Pandey said Pratibhanand agreed to get Bhardwaj murdered as he “wanted Rs 1.5 crore to open an ashram in Haridwar and fulfil his childhood dream of heading a mutt”. “He struck a deal at Rs 5 crore and Rs 50 lakh was paid in advance to buy weapons and vehicles,” Pandey said.
“Of the Rs 50 lakh, Pratibhanand kept aside Rs 12.5 lakh for himself. After the incident, Nitesh gave him Rs 2 lakh to leave the country. He first went to Haridwar in a bus and then to Nepal to visit Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. After some months, he returned to Haridwar and donated Rs 12 lakh at a wedding. He also tried to approach Bhardwaj’s family to get the rest of the money, but they did not take his calls. He then shifted to Kurukshetra and later to Madhya Pradesh, where he stayed at an ashram and survived on alms from devotees,” Pandey said.