The questions over a Gujarat resident who posed for weeks as a high-ranking official from the Prime Minister’s Office on a visit to Jammu and Kashmir refuse to go away.

On March 17, Jammu and Kashmir police announced the arrest of Kiran Bhai Patel, who allegedly passed himself off as an “additional director (strategy and campaigns) PMO New Delhi” during multiple visits to the Union territory.

Many doors opened for Patel during his visits to Kashmir, according to media reports. He stayed in a five-star hotel, was given Z-plus security cover and an official bullet-proof vehicle for his movement in the Kashmir Valley – all of which was paid for by the government. He allegedly met senior government officials and visited sensitive locations.

On March 2, an alert was shared by Jammu and Kashmir Police’s intelligence wing with the Srinagar district police about the “arrival of an impersonator in Kashmir”. A day later, Patel was arrested.

The Jammu and Kashmir police acknowledged the arrest two weeks later after a local news outlet in Srinagar broke the story on March 17 .

But how could someone described as a “fraudster” and a “conman” succeed in taking the security apparatus and government machinery in a sensitive region like Jammu and Kashmir for a ride? Who sanctioned elaborate security arrangements for him?

Several former police officers and bureaucrats Scroll spoke to said the police do not provide security cover at this scale to any individual without proper communication from the government.

The answers, if at all they are forthcoming, do not add up.

Credit: Dr. Kiran J Patel @bansijpatel/Twitter.

The Gujarat connection

Kiran Bhai Patel’s verified Twitter profile identifies him as a “thinker, strategist, analyst, campaign manager”. He also claims to be an engineer, with a Master’s in business administration and computer science and a doctorate in philosophy from Commonwealth University, Virginia.

According to the Srinagar Police, however, his antecedents are dubious.

Patel is a resident of Ahmedabad, the police said, with a criminal record. Three cases have been registered against him in different police stations in his home state of Gujarat, involving allegations of criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy.

While the timeline of his multiple visits to Jammu and Kashmir is unclear, Patel’s social media feed offers many flashy glimpses of his adventures in Jammu and Kashmir.

Videos that he posted on Twitter show Patel trudging through snow-covered tourist spots in Kashmir, surrounded by a posse of paramilitary personnel and local police. Another video on his Twitter timeline shows the national flag fluttering at the office of the Pulwama deputy commissioner.

Subsequent media reports, quoting unidentified sources, said Patel visited sensitive locations in Kashmir Valley, clicked pictures at these spots, met top bureaucrats of the Union territory, entertained several civil society members and political party activists. He is also believed to have pitched an idea for increasing tourist footfall and improving tourism infrastructure in the Valley.

Earlier, too, media reports said Patel had made multiple visits to the Valley, posing as a senior PMO official and had enjoyed similar perks paid for by the public exchequer.

Patel was accompanied by three more individuals when he was first questioned by the police on March 2, according to some media reports.

They were identified as Amit Pandya and Jay Sitapore from Gujarat, and Trilok Singh from Rajasthan. Pandya is the son of Hitesh Pandya, a seasoned officer in the Gujarat Chief Minister’s Office.

According to a report in The Hindu, both Pandya and Sitapore have been arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police.

Hitesh Pandya, The Hindu report went on to say, is “an old hand in the Gujarat Chief Minister’s Office” and “active in the state BJP’s social media wing”.

The Srinagar police in its statement on May 17 did not mention Pandya or Sitapore. “Many relevant persons have been examined in this case. The case is at the initial stage of investigation,” the statement read.

The first information report filed by the police also did not elaborate on how Patel impersonated a senior PMO official, except to say that he “has duped gullible people … under a well-knit plan for securing monetary as well as material benefits”.

Patel was booked on charges of cheating and forgery. He was in police remand till March 17.

Ten “fake” visiting cards and two mobile phones were seized from Patel at the time of his arrest on March 3. He is currently in judicial custody at Srinagar’s central jail.

Opposition leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have criticised the Union territory administration over its failure to verify the credentials of Patel.

“You must have seen that a man came here and told the government here that he works in the PMO, they didn’t even try to find out [if it was true],” former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, said at a rally in Jammu on March 20.

‘There must be a paper trail’

Kashmir’s additional director general of police Vijay Kumar has denied that the scandal is the result of an intelligence failure. “There was negligence at the level of a field officer and action will be taken,” Kumar told reporters in Srinagar on March 19.

But former top police officers and bureaucrats who have served in the erstwhile state say that the fiasco reeks of procedural lapses and negligence – not the failure of an individual.

“A common officer would not get so much security unless there has been some reference, somewhere from within the government,” said K Rajendra Kumar, former director general of Jammu and Kashmir police. “That needs to be checked.”

Elaborating on the procedure followed to provide security and make other arrangements for a visiting dignitary in the erstwhile state, Kumar said the police provides security only on the basis of a formal requisition sent through the state or local government.

“If a civilian officer is supposed to visit, a message comes to the state government, that is, to the chief secretary,” said Kumar. “From his office, a communication is sent to all the concerned departments, including the hospitality and protocol department and the police, so that security and other arrangements can be made.”

Kumar added: “The police do not provide any security of this scale without proper communication from the government. In this [Patel’s] case, we do not know where they got the information from.”

If the requisition for security arrangements is made at the senior levels of government, Kumar said, the police do not dig into the background of the person.

“Generally speaking, when something has come from the top, the police would not inquire about the dignitary’s antecedents unless there is some suspicion,” he said.

Kumar said the investigators should look into the communication trail to get to the bottom of the case.

“There has to be a paper trail, a telephonic trail or some digital trail through which it was communicated to the concerned departments and police to make arrangements for him,” Kumar said. “They should be able to track it down.”

Clear instructions

Despite the established procedure, sometimes the police and the authorities have to make security and accommodation arrangements on a short notice – but only as a short-term measure.

“Let’s say some officer or dignitary has come unannounced and is then demanding security,” said Shesh Paul Vaid, former chief of Jammu and Kashmir Police. “We have to provide security in that case because you have to protect them.”

But such an arrangement, Vaid insisted, was a temporary measure, which is in place for a few hours or a day. “Long-term security cannot be provided like that.”

In the case of Patel, the security arrangements had been in place for weeks and on multiple trips.

Vijay Kumar, the additional director general of police, Kashmir, said the police is also looking into whether Patel got security on verbal instructions of some officers. “There are clear instructions not to provide security cover on verbal instructions,” he said on March 19. “We are looking into this.”

Meanwhile, a Srinagar court heard Patel’s bail application on March 20 and posted the matter for orders on March 23.

“He is innocent until proven guilty,” said advocate Rehaan Gowhar, who is representing Patel in Srinagar. “I am claiming bail as a matter of right.”

Gowhar said he has urged action against the erring officials on whose orders his client got security and other arrangements. “Those who are negligent are equally involved,” Gowhar said. “I have urged before the court that they are equally involved in the crime.”