The team investigating the alleged contract killing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Hiren Patel on September 27 in Jhalod of Dahod district is now looking at a possible political link after the questioning of the four arrested accused in the case and recording the statements of Congress councillors of Jhalod municipality who cross-voted in the elections held a month before Patel was allegedly killed in a “hit-and-run incident”.
The new investigating officer in the case, Deputy Superintendent Paresh Solanki, has written to the Chief Officer of Jhalod Municipality, seeking details of the functioning, finances and contracts awarded to various agencies and contractors between February 2018 and August 2020, a month before Patel’s alleged murder. Police is probing allegations that a high-stakes local election of the president and the vice-president of the municipality, held on August 25, was the trigger for the alleged contract killing.
In the letter (a copy of which is with The Indian Express), DySP Solanki has said that the information is required in connection with the probe of Patel’s case, which has been registered under Section 302 of the IPC for culpable homicide amounting to murder.
The letter states, “Please furnish the true copies of all resolutions made in the General Board and the Executive board from February 2018 to August 2020. Please also furnish the grants received by the Jhalod Municipality during the same period… true copies of all proposals for planning of development works as per the government process as well as the relevant technical permissions, principal approvals, tender process and work orders… the records bills issued (by contractors) and the payments made by the municipality for the same.”
Police also sought a true copy of the list of the elected members of the wards where the said works were undertaken. “These records from your office as well as the pertaining documents are vital in carrying forward the probe and the municipality is requested to dispatch the same by post,” the letter stated.
The statements of the newly elected president and vice-president as well as the members of the Congress party, who cross-voted in the elections on August 25 were recorded to understand if the leaders received any threats as claimed by Patel’s family and supporters.
Local leaders say that about three months before the polls, three Congress councillors and one independent councillor went into hiding, allegedly at the insistence of Patel. Of the three councillors was Sonal Dindor, who became the president of the municipality unopposed in August. Dindor along with the two other party councillors rebelled and voted against the party mandate to support Nanda Vaghela to become the vice-president, who was backed by the BJP.
The Congress had fielded Kanu Vasaiya for vice-president’s post and the three rebel party councillors staged a walk out during the voting. They, however, did not resign from the party or join the BJP.
An elected representative said, “Their proximity to Patel and the fact that they would now work at his behest even for development works and contracts, is a reason for grudge. The threat was open and everyone knows about it. Patel overturned the apple cart for many contractors too.”
The 28-seat Jhalod Municipality had 14 representatives from the Congress, eight from BJP and six independents when it was formed in February 2018. The elections in August were held as per the process of electing a new president and vice-president after a term of two-and-half years.
The president of the first term from February 2018 to August 2020 of the municipality was Kinjal Amit Katara, daughter-in-law of former Dahod MP Babulal Katara, who switched from the BJP to the Congress, and sister-in-law of sitting Congress MLA from Jhalod, Bhavesh Katara.
Superintendent of police, Dahod, Hitesh Joysar, said that no other elected representatives have complained of receiving threats. “We are not in a position to conclusively state if the motive was political but the probe is under way and once we establish the motive sufficiently, anyone involved in the contract killing will be arrested.”
Teams from the Local Crime Branch (LCB) and Special Operations Group (SOG) have been sent out to nab Imran Gudala, a resident of Jhalod and Irfan Basti, a resident of of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh — two names that cropped up during the interrogation of the arrested accused. Gudala, who is said to have facilitated the money for the contract killing reportedly have political links with elected representatives in Jhalod, while Basti was one of the hired contractors present on the day the accused allegedly rammed a Light Utility Vehicle (LUV) into Patel during his morning walk.
The four arrested accused — 2002 Sabarmati train carnage convinct Irfan Pada, Jhalod resident Ajay Kalal, and Ujjain residents Sajjansinh Chauhan and Mohammed Samir Mujawar — are in police custody until October 22.
Joysar held a meeting with members of the peace committees of different communities in Jhalod on Monday. “We met the leaders to appeal to them to keep calm… we are ensuring that no untoward incident occurs,” he said. As many as 43 CCTV cameras in the area have been activated across Jhalod in the past one week to increase vigil.
Late on Wednesday, 15 councillors of the Municipality submitted a memorandum to investigating officer Solanki, seeking security and citing “threat to their life”. This includes Congress councillor and president Sonal Dindor, independent candidate and vice-president Nanda Vaghela, Congress councillors Dala Vasaiya and Savita Damor — who voted against party whip, seven BJP councillors and four other independent candidates supporting the BJP in the municipality.
The memorandum states, “One of the arrested accused and one wanted accused — who executed the cold blooded murder of our leader Hiren Patel when they found him alone — had threatened us all on the floor of the Sabha Hall of the Municipality during the election (in August this year) stating that they would not allow us to function in the new board that was formed. Those who lost power were vengeful and we fear for our lives and our families given the way they have silenced Hiren Patel.”
Solanki was unavailable for comment.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines