Chhabil Patel and Jayanti Bhanushali were far from being friends though their careers took a similar trajectory — both chose to contest Assembly elections from the Abdasa seat in Kutch, both were sons of farmers; and both lived in Ahmedabad where they dabbled in real estate.
And over the last year, a volatile mix of business, crime and politics played out in the courts and police stations as a bitter rivalry between them intensified. Both were even accused of rape, Bhanushali (56) in Surat and Patel (57) in Delhi, by different victims and preceding this were allegations of sleaze videos, honey traps and extortions.
That rivalry ended January 7 when Bhanushali was killed aboard the Sayajinagri Express en route to Ahmedabad from Bhuj. His nephew Sunil accused Patel and five others, including a woman from Ahmedabad, who claimed she was raped by Bhanushali, of having murdered the former MLA. Patel, now the prime accused, is believed to have flown to the US on January 8.
Even as the police confirmed that Patel flew to the US the very day of the murder, a six-second video purportedly of Patel had surfaced on social media where he is allegedly heard saying, “Mitron chinta na karta, dushmano ko dhishkyaon dhishkyaon” (Friends, do not worry, enemies will be (gesturing a gun with his hands) shot dead.”
In the FIR, Sunil Bhanushali has said his uncle started carrying a licensed gun after the video went viral. He has also told police that on December 7, a month before his murder, Bhanushali had given an application to the police against Patel that he was framing him in fake cases.
The husband of the woman named in Sunil’s FIR told The Indian Express: “My wife is innocent and she has become a victim of a political war. She is not involved in any murder. Her dispute with BJP leader Jayanti Bhanushali was sorted out around three months ago, and she was regularly talking to him on phone and they had become good friends like earlier.”
Sunil had earlier told the Gujarat police that the woman was blackmailing him with an “objectionable” video clip of his and had demanded Rs 10 crore for not putting it out. The woman, in a bail appeal before the Gujarat high court, had alleged that Bhanushali had raped her to prevent her from “exposing a sex scandal”. No case, however, was registered against Bhanushali.
Her husband also claimed his wife campaigned for Bhanushali in the 2007 assembly elections and was a “BJP worker”.”Later due to some unknown reasons, her relations with Bhanushali soured and a complaint was registered by his nephew (Sunil). My wife was arrested. We then arrived at a compromise and she and Bhanushali had become friends”, he said.
In October last year, Patel was booked by Delhi police (Dwarka police station) for rape after a woman filed a complaint alleging that the politician sexually assaulted her after promising to donate money to an NGO. Patel was arrested by Delhi police and is currently out on bail.
Leaders of both parties say it is hard for them to believe that political rivalry can deteriorate to a level where “one would bay for the other’s blood”. “Electoral victories and defeats are part and parcel of the political life of a politician. It is possible that a leader might remain inactive or can even work against the official nominee of the party during an election. But it is hard to think that such a rivalry can lead to bloodshed,” says a leader of the BJP.
Patel burst on the political scene in Kutch when he defeated former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta from the Mandvi seat in 2002 and owes his entry and rise in politics to another former CM, Shankersinh Vaghela, who broke away from the BJP to launch his own Rashtriya Janata Party, which later merged with the Congress.
In contrast, Bhanushali took the longer route and rose within the BJP’s ranks. He was first elected to the Kutch district panchayat and then won his maiden Assembly election in 2007 from Abdasa. But that proved his only victory after Patel, with the Congress in 2012, defeated Bhanushali, triggering the six-year feud that ended two weeks ago.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Patel defected to the BJP signalling that Bhanushali was being sidelined. Three years later, Patel, much to Bhanushali’s chagrin, was given the BJP ticket from Abdasa for the 2017 Assembly elections, which he lost to the Congress’s Kishorsinh Jadeja.
Patel’s entry into the BJP had come just a few months after he defeated Bhanushali in the Assembly election – a double blow to latter, who was also sacked as president of the BJP Kutch district unit. The BJP rehabilitated Bhanushali only five years later, in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly elections, when he was made state vice-president, from where he resigned soon after the rape charge.
From Hajapar village in Abdasa taluka, Bhanushali had dropped out of school after Class X and took up farming. Later, he graduated to a cotton trading business and subsequently became a dealer of jute bags and then, a real estate businessmen in Ahmedabad.
Patel holds a degree in law, owns agricultural land in Chandlodiya in Ahmedabad as well as in Bhuj, Nakhtrana and Abdasa talukas of Kutch district and runs a real estate business in Ahmedabad.