Sanjay Sherpuria and Kiran Patel: Fixers, tricksters, conmen or scapegoats?
An impersonator breaching high security is the stuff of national nightmares and most observers believe it cannot be done without the complicity of people in high places
A driver, a security guard, a waiter in a restaurant in Ahmedabad. Different reports tell different stories about the same man, but they all concur on one point—his luck turned when his employer’s daughter fell in love with him, and convinced her affluent family to allow them to get married.
Perhaps this love story would have had a fairy-tale ending if the Uttar Pradesh police hadn’t arrested the man in question—Sanjay Rai alias Sanjay Sherpuria, en route from New Delhi to Ghazipur. The FIR accused him of defrauding businessmen and bureaucrats by faking his proximity to the Prime Minister, Union ministers and other honchos in the BJP and the RSS.
What muddies the waters is that the photographs he posted on his social media pages do not look like fakes. One shows Sherpuria welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi on an airfield. In another, he is sitting with the PM and six other men, seemingly huddled together in serious discussion. In a third photograph, he is on the dais with the PM. There are photographs of him with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, with BJP president J.P. Nadda and with information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, who he described as a param mitra or close friend.
And while Sherpuria was yet to own a bungalow befitting of one moving in these exalted circles, the renting and lavish furnishing of a portion of the Delhi Riding Club at No. 1 Lodhi Road did get him membership into the Delhi Gymkhana Club, said to have a 20-year waiting list.
Intriguingly, an Indian Express report claims that Sherpuria is not even a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The normally overzealous party and its IT cell have not bothered to call out Sherpuria or declare the photos fake. Could this be because they are genuine? To be allowed anywhere near the Prime Minister or the PMO, he would have had to take clerance from the Intelligence Bureau and the PM’s security.
Didn’t intelligence agencies, believed to have alerted the Special Task Force (STF) of the Uttar Pradesh Police, find it necessary to alert the PMO? It seems improbable that the agencies were not aware that Sherpuria’s wi-fi password was ‘PMO’, that he gave out his address as ‘Race Course Road’, or that he had hired a PR agency to create multiple fan pages on social media. Nor would the social media posts have escaped the agencies. So, who vetted this conman?
While the UP Police have accused him of having floated 56 shell companies to facilitate money laundering—currently ‘under investigation’—the mighty Enforcement Directorate (ED) appears to have missed his shenanigans up until now. The ED, which does not baulk at leaking details and allegations during investigations, continues to be tight-lipped about this case.
What triggered Sherpuria’s arrest is the allegation that he extorted Rs 6 crore from industrialist Gaurav Dalmia as a donation to his NGO, YREF (Young Rural Entrepreneur Foundation). Police sources have claimed that Dalmia was being investigated by one of the central agencies and Sherpuria had offered to settle the case by using his clout with top politicians and bureaucrats. The Dalmia Family Trust has been quick to deny the allegation, merely stating that the donation was part of its expenses related to CSR (corporate social responsibility).
The plot thickens when we learn that, by 2015, Sherpuria’s Gujarat-based companies had run into trouble and been blacklisted. Kandla Energy and Chemicals Ltd (KECL), set up in 2005, defaulted on a State Bank of India (SBI) loan of Rs 171.85 crore in January 2013. It was classified as non-performing asset (NPA) in July 2014 and referred to the NCLT for settlement. The SBI had declared the company a wilful defaulter, and put the firm’s dues owed to it at Rs 349.12 crore as on 31 December 2022.
Several other companies promoted by Sherpuria tanked before he shifted his base to New Delhi, where he continued to operate with impunity. He invited politicians and bureaucrats to attend religious ceremonies at home. He got books—allegedly authored by him, with titles such as I am Madhobhai: A Pakistani Hindu, Hindu Dharma Ki Dharohar, Karahta Bangal—released by prominent politicians, among them Mohan Bhagwat. He ‘wrote’ regularly for prominent Hindi newspapers and sold his exorbitantly priced books to bureaucrats, businessmen and favour-seekers.
Forbes India published a glowing report on the work done by his NGO in Ghazipur in setting up a ‘lakdi (firewood) bank’ to help the poor cremate family members who had died in the second wave of Covid. TV channels were no laggards in promoting him.
Despite being declared a ‘wilful defaulter’ by the SBI, Sherpuria had no difficulty in securing a ‘subsidy’ or grant of Rs 2 crore in December 2022 from the ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy, which has Purushottam Rupala from Gujarat as minister. Not surprisingly, Sherpuria had posted photographs of the two of them listening to the Prime Minister’s Mann Ki Baat.
The STF told a court in UP that Sherpuria had confessed to collecting large amounts of money in return for his services as troubleshooter, intercessor on behalf of businessmen and bureaucrats, and fixer of transfers and postings. The court was also told that the accused had admitted to keeping a diary, in which names and amounts were recorded in a code that only he could decipher. The diary being stashed in his in-laws’ house in Gujarat, the STF sought a transit remand to take Sherpuria there.
His nephew and close associate Pradeep Kumar Rai figured in the CBI’s ‘undesirable contact’ list, despite which a number of IAS officers and IPS officers agreed to serve as members of the advisory board of the NGO he had floated in 2019. Among them were the former chief secretary of Gujarat S.K. Nanda and former CBI officer A.K. Sharma.
Nanda is also reported to have known and helped Kiran Patel, the conman arrested a month before Sherpuria for impersonating a senior PMO official. After an initial burst of information in the wake of Patel’s arrest, nothing is known about this investigation either.
Kiran Patel, who runs an audit firm in Ahmedabad, secured accommodation and Z-plus security in J&K by claiming to be an additional director in the PMO, and producing fake identification that clearly passed muster. It was an audacious thing to do in a Union Territory crawling with security and intelligence agencies.
An impersonator breaching high security is the stuff of national nightmares and most observers believe it cannot be done without the complicity of people in high places. Could name-dropping with swagger be all it took for Patel to pull it off ?
It seems the over-confidence of this confidence trickster ultimately undid him. Patel reportedly threatened an officer with transfer for failing to respond to his ‘summons’. He was arrested on March 3, but the matter remained under wraps until he was produced in court and sent to judicial custody. Police said there were three others with him who mysteriously managed to escape. Two of them, Amit Pandya and Jay Sitapara, were later arrested in Gujarat. Pandya’s father worked at the Gujarat chief minister’s office (CMO) and has since put in his papers. The government says that a probe is on.
Like Sherpuria, Patel too had a history and should not have passed the sniff test. There were at least three cases of cheating pending against him in Gujarat, the earliest dating back to 2017, when he first claimed to be part of the PMO.
The holder of a host of (largely fake) degrees, including a PhD from a US university, Patel attended meetings for BJP workers, would often be seen at the BJP headquarters and the secretariat, and even organised a conference that he passed off as preparatory to the G-20 summit. Like Sherpuria, he too offered to fix investigations, arrange desired postings and presumably secure contracts. He is said to have promised a judicial officer in UP a posting in the Supreme Court in return for considerations.
While both conmen have had their cover blown, these are by no means open-and-shut cases. They challenge both the security establishment and intelligence agencies, while providing enough grist to the mill for conspiracy theories about different arms of the government working at cross purposes.
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