As if the infighting was not enough, the Congress is facing a new menace in Punjab: impersonators of political strategist Prashant Kishor duping partymen after promising favourable surveys and poll tickets for the state elections next year.
On Tuesday, police in Ludhiana registered a case against unidentified persons for dialling party leaders and asking them to publicly criticise the Chief Minister. It now turns out that another gang of Kishor impersonators was busted last month after it fleeced “at least 30-40 Congress leaders from Ludhiana, Bathinda, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Sangrur”.
Police sources said the gang duped Congressmen of Rs 5 crore at least. “The gang-members were caught while trying to dupe MLA Kuldeep Singh Vaid. He got suspicious when the impersonator asked for a gift to submit a survey report in his favour. The police laid a trap and two men were arrested from Jalandhar on May 11 and 13, respectively,” said police sources.
Officers identified those arrested as Rakesh Kumar Bhasin and Rajat Kumar Raja, and the key impersonator, who was nabbed later, as Gaurav Sharma. All of them hail from Amritsar, they said.
“Sharma is a gambler who bets lakhs every day. He has perfected Kishor’s style of speaking after watching him on TV. He not only duped leaders from Punjab but also Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and West Bengal. There are cases registered against the gang in other states but police were not able to pin them down,” a senior officer said.
Most of those duped by the gang were not willing to be identified, and refused to file a formal police complaint. Police sources said several leaders, including MLAs, a former Mayor, and candidates in the previous state elections, were targeted.
When contacted, Vaid, who represents Gill in Ludhiana, said he found the impersonator “very convincing”.
“I had met Kishor earlier, including recently when he had met MLAs in Chandigarh to ask about feedback from constituencies. Still, the impersonator was so convincing that for a moment I thought it was Kishor on the line. He had done his homework, and was talking to me as if he had actually surveyed my constituency. I got several calls from him over a period of 4-5 days,” Vaid said.
“But then, the impersonator demanded Rs 10 lakh from me as a gift for two MLAs from other states who would conduct a survey and submit a report in my favour to make sure that I got a ticket. I became certain that this could not be Kishor. I spoke to my friends in the party and the police. I was told that there was a complaint from Sangrur, too, by Daman Thind Bajwa (a Congress candidate in 2017). We accompanied police to Jalandhar and the gang was arrested,” said Vaid.
In her police complaint, Bajwa said she got suspicious when the imposter asked her to deposit Rs 7 lakh.
In the latest case, Ludhiana Police Commissioner Rakesh Aggarwal told The Indian Express that he could not divulge details of an ongoing investigation.
Kishor was drafted by Amarinder Singh in January 2016 to advise the party on strategy for the 2017 elections. In March this year, the Chief Minister appointed him as his principal advisor.
Over the last few months, Kishor played a key role in helping the TMC retain power in West Bengal before announcing that he wanted to take a break from poll management. He did not respond to requests from The Indian Express seeking comment.
The impersonators, meanwhile, have left the party’s senior state leadership red-faced, especially at a time when it is scrambling to tackle widening fault lines within the organisation.
A few leaders, including Navjot Singh Sidhu, have raised the banner of revolt against the Chief Minister after the High Court set aside an SIT investigation into the incidents of firing at Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura.
In the latest incident of Kishor impersonators in Ludhiana, police have registered a case under several IPC sections, including 420 (cheatring), and section 66-D of the IT Act against unknown callers for “inciting leaders to criticise the CM”. The FIR was registered on a complaint by Inspector Amandeep Singh who cited a tip-off from an informer.