Gujarat: Panth Patel files nomination for bypolls to replace slain father in Jhalod municipality

Says stepping into Hiren Patel’s shoes to fulfil his ‘incomplete dreams’

AMONG THE seats that will go to polls with the upcoming local body elections is one from Jhalod Municipality’s ward 5 that fell vacant after the alleged murder of incumbent councillor and BJP leader Hiren Patel on September 27 last year. Riding on the sympathy wave in Jhalod, the party has now fielded Patel’s 21-year-old son Panth, who was so far reluctant to politics.

With his eyes set on a career in homoeopathy, Panth says he decided to take the plunge to “fulfil the incomplete dreams of his father”.

“It is an irony of sorts that I am now doing what my father did not want me to do. But now, I have to finish those things that he has left incomplete in his ward due to the way his life was brought to an abrupt end. My father wanted me to complete my BHMS course and make a career in medicine, away from politics. I don’t know what he would have thought of my decision to take a plunge (in politics) but something inside me told me that I must step into his shoes to complete his unfinished tasks in the ward,” Panth told The Sunday Express from Jhalod, where his filed nomination for the bypolls to one seat from ward 5 of the municipality.

The 21-year-old is set to begin his campaign on the ground from Tuesday, a day after the scrutiny of nomination documents.

Panth, Patel’s only child, also lost his mother, Bina, in December last year to leukaemia. “If my mother was alive today, I would have made her file the nominations to carry on my father’s legacy. But now that she has also departed and I am the only child, it is my responsibility. My uncles have businesses that could be seen as a conflict of interest. The party has extended their full support and handed over the mandate (to me),” he said.

Panth, who had joined the BJP as a primary member in 2018, is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) from Bangalore. “I have three more years to go in Bangalore and I will eventually return to college. If I win, I will manage the works remotely and keep visiting to be accessible to the voters. I was here only because of the lockdown and although we got to spend so much time together as a family, I never expected that it was life’s way of giving me the chance to spend the last few months with both my parents before fate would take such a turn,” he said.

Extended a security cover by the police ever since the arrest of former BJP Lok Sabha MP Babu Katara’s son Amit as the prime accused in the case for commissioning a contract to bump off Hiren Patel, Panth said he was aware of the looming threat.

“My father’s murder and the subsequent mysterious suicide of a Congress councillor Antim Agarwal has changed the perception of politics in Jhalod. Most leaders are scared and our well-wishers feel I will be harmed too, but I know they (accused) only had issues with my father,” he said.

Agarwal alias Pintoo, a councillor from an adjacent municipality ward, died allegedly after consuming poison on November 23 last year. The seat is also going to bypolls.

According to Panth, right before his death on September 27, Hiren Patel had discussed a power-sharing option with some Congress leaders, including Amit Katara, whose wife Kinjal was the president of the municipality for the first term, from February 2018 to August 2020.

“My father did not want to become the president but he wanted to amicably decide the next one. When my father was able to have his way during the voting, because of the kind of respect he commanded, they were miffed. But the trigger was not the election to the posts of the municipality heads, as it has been claimed. It has to do with my father’s popularity and the fact that he immediately began involving himself in the execution of development works in the municipality right after having candidates of his choice elected as president and vice-president,” he said.

Panth also referred to the 2008 attack on Hiren Patel by Babu Katara’s brother after a disagreement over voting for the APMC elections that year. “I was in class 4 when they had attacked my father. I remember they had broken his hands and he had submitted a letter to the police stating they should be held responsible for anything that happens to him in 2008. However, since they were leaders of the same party – BJP – they resolved differences and came together for bigger issues. Until 2017, when the Kataras departed from the BJP to join the Congress after Babu Katara’s son was denied a BJP ticket from the Jhalod Assembly seat, they would discuss matters with my father. I know that my father also used to listen to them. We had never thought it would come to this,” he said.

Panth said his mother, Bina, had been depressed since Hirel’s alleged murder and was immediately diagnosed with leukaemia. “My mother was traumatised and fell very sick. Doctors first diagnosed her with typhoid and later blood tests came back indicating leukaemia. She underwent one chemotherapy session and was recovering but she passed away in the last week of December. Ever since I have been on my own with support from the extended family,” he said.

The young politician is confident that people’s sympathy will work in his favour. “My father spent 35 years in the BJP and worked tirelessly for the local area development. He was well known and loved. It is natural that when I start campaigning, his followers and locals will look for him in me. I am ready to fill the vacuum that his death has left behind for people who he cared for. That is my only aim at the moment.”

On January 8, the Dahod district police filed the first chargesheet in the case registered at Jhalod police station with the investigation going on to confiscate a light utility vehicle (LUV) that was allegedly used to stage a hit-and-run case in Hiren Patel’s murder. In its first chargesheet, Jhalod police charged six of the eight arrested persons accused of culpable homicide amounting to murder and criminal conspiracy. The accused include 2002 Sabarmati train burning incident convict Irfan Pada, Jhalod resident Ajay Kalal, Ujjain residents Sajjansinh Chauhan and Mohammed Samir Mujawar, Balram Bhuvanji and Salim Baju Shaikh alias Kala.

Two other accused, who were arrested later and named as the key conspirators for commissioning the contract killing, are Amit Katara, the son of former Dahod MP and then BJP leader Babu Katara, and his aide Imran Gudala. Police will book Gudala and Katara in a separate additional chargesheet later. A ninth accused, Irfan Basti of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, is still at large.

The chargesheet, filed under Indian Penal Code sections 302 (culpable homicide amounting to murder), 303 (punishment for murder by life-convict) and 120B (criminal conspiracy), describes the role played by all the eight accused and establishes the link between the six chargesheeted accused with the others.

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