Jai Prakash Bhai Patel during his interrogation by police in the missing gun case at Hazaribagh Circuit House on December 1. (Vishvendu Jaipuriar)
Ranchi/Hazaribagh, Dec. 4: Chief minister Hemant Soren, in a bid to quell the clamour that his government was shielding his cabinet’s youngest colleague Jai Prakash Bhai Patel in the unsavoury lost-and-found AK-47 rifles controversy, stressed he wanted an impartial probe in the case.
To allegations that Patel, the 31-year-old JMM MLA from Mandu, transferred official firearms to Maoists to repay their favours, Hemant, during an exclusive tête-à-tête at his Kanke Road residence yesterday evening, said: “Police are probing the case. I have asked Hazaribagh SP (Manoj Kaushik) not to buckle under pressure, if any, and submit a report with state director-general of police (Rajeev Kumar) directly.”
“I am closely monitoring the case,” Hemant added, perhaps in response to growing demand among Congress and BJP ranks for Patel’s immediate resignation.
However, this evening, when The Telegraph contacted SP Kaushik in Hazaribagh, he gave a clean chit to the minister and pinned blame on one of the bodyguards.
“The complete picture will emerge in a day or so but the minister’s bodyguard appears to be the mastermind,” said the Hazaribagh SP, declining to reveal more.
However, detractors of first-time minister Patel, who is accusing him of supplying arms to Maoists and calling the so-called theft “staged”, are also alleging frantic efforts are being made to shield the well-connected JMM leader.
Patel is the son of late JMM leader Teklal Mahto (a former MLA and MP) and son-in-law of Tundi MLA and senior JMM leader Mathura Prasad Mahto.
The bare facts of the case are contradictory.
According to the initial version, on the night of November 23 in Hazaribagh, Patel, who holds portfolios of drinking water and sanitation and excise and prohibition, was in his private residence in Amrit Nagar area.
His three bodyguards, at a bungalow owned by drinking water and sanitation department on Lake Road, 3km from Amrit Nagar, apparently fell asleep at night.
When they woke up on November 24 morning, two loaded AK-47s and a 9mm pistol were missing from their possessions. They informed Patel, who in turn told SP Kaushik, who then took three constables — Navneet Kumar Tiwary, Kishan Rai and Indra Kumar Chhetri — into custody for dereliction of duty.
Then, matters became sticky.
On November 26, Kishan and Indra were released. Navneet had apparently confessed that the “theft” was done on the instructions of Patel and the weapons were supposed to be handed over to a conduit who would send them to Maoist zonal commander Ajay Mahto of Vishnugarh area. His other two colleagues, not involved in the plan, were sleeping, Navneet said.
On November 20, two AK-47s were recovered from bushes close to Lake Road.
Police quizzed Patel on December 1. He maintained he knew nothing.
As rumours grow of Patel promising to pay hefty sums in cash and weapons to Maoists after winning the Mandu bypoll in 2012, the case took a surprising turn.
Now, as Navneet is being bandied as the man who supplied weapons on his own, chief minister Hemant’s claim of a fair probe comes under scrutiny.
Insiders have said that Hemant himself is under enormous pressure from his own party to shield Patel.
However, minister Patel said this was a “political conspiracy to malign his image”.
“I was very concerned about this issue and came to Circuit House (Hazaribagh) on my own to reply to some questions of the police. Otherwise, the police would have to obtain permission from the Speaker to grill me,” he said.