As rebel Sena MLAs transited Surat, CR Paatil ran show from behind the scenes

The Indian Express | 4 days ago | 24-06-2022 | 02:45 pm

As rebel Sena MLAs transited Surat, CR Paatil ran show from behind the scenes

Hours ahead of June 21 morning, when the International Yoga Day was celebrated, a luxury hotel on the Surat-Dumas Road came under a tight police cordon. At least 30 Shiv Sena MLAs from Maharashtra, led by Eknath Shinde, a minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, had driven down to Surat on June 20 night to seek sanctuary in this hotel – and to declare a rebellion against the Uddhav-led Sena.Gujarat BJP chief Chandrakant Raghunath Paatil, popularly known as CR, was due to attend a Yoga Day event at Raisan village in Gandhinagar, which however was cancelled at the last minute.While Surat seemed to be a natural choice for the rebel Sena MLAs, given that it is just 279-km from Mumbai in the BJP-ruled Gujarat, the presence of a man at the Le Meridien hotel, where 40 rooms had been booked on June 20 night, confirmed that the operation bore the stamp of C R Paatil, a Lok Sabha MP from Navsari with roots in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district, who is also said to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.That man was Paresh Patel, Paatil’s confidant and the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC)’s Standing Committee chairman, who was at the hotel right from June 20 night when the rebel Sena MLAs arrived. So, although Paatil was out of sight, at his behest Paresh remained at the helm of the Surat scene from where Shinde’s rebellion plan was set into motion.Paatil told The Indian Express that he had been out of Surat “since Monday”. The presence of the Gujarat police personnel in significant numbers outside the hotel and that of a police team, including Surat city joint commissioner Sharad Singhal, inside it indicated that Paatil’s another confidant, the Gujarat minister of state for home Harsh Sanghavi, a Surat MLA, could not have been unaware of this operation and the identity of the guests there.Sources said that nearly 32 rebel MLAs reached Surat on June 20 night after being driven from Maharashtra, and six others joined them on early June 21 morning. At around 4 am on June 22, a chartered Spice Jet flight carrying 38 Sena and Independent MLAs along with Shinde, flew out of Surat to Guwahati in flood-ravaged Assam, another BJP-ruled state.From June 20 night to early June 22, two developments seemed to have led to this evacuation from Surat: one was the access gained by Uddhav’s two emissaries – his personal secretary Milind Narvekar and the Legislative Council member Ravindra Phatak – to the hotel to meet the rebel Sena MLAs and, secondly, the bid made by two party MLAs, Nitin Deshmukh and Kailas Patil, to “escape” from there against Shinde’s plan, insider sources told The Indian Express. “Being close to Maharashtra did not look like a good idea any more,” said a source.Surat city was selected as a safe haven by the Sena rebels because it is in a BJP-ruled state and barely 279-km away from Mumbai, even as it has a good road, air and rail connectivity. Maharashtra’s Palghar district shares its border with Gujarat’s Valsad district. All the rebel MLAs were brought to Surat by road via Palghar, a distance of 212 kms, said a source. While Navsari and Valsad districts are closer to Maharashtra, “neither has an airport or luxury hotels”, the source added. A significant part of Navsari, Paatil’s parliamentary constituency, lies in Surat district.According to a source who handled the logistics for the Shinde camp in Surat, 38 rebel MLAs were flown from the city on a chartered Spice Jet flight to Guwahati on June 21. Four MLAs flew out on a chartered flight on June 22, while four more followed suit on June 23 at around 6 am. Sources in the local BJP unit said that the two aircraft chartered from Mumbai and Delhi were stationed at the Surat airport “in readiness” with the city becoming the rebel MLAs’ key transit base. Thus, said the source, “46 Shiv Sena and Independent MLAs reached Guwahati”.While Paresh Patel was seen at the Le Meridien hotel in his official car, sources said he was assisted by his colleagues in the SMC, such as BJP councillor Dinesh Rajpurohit, councillor Amit Singh Rajput, and Surat party general secretary Kishor Bindal. All these BJP leaders, affiliated to the Paatil camp, were given various assignments, including the crucial tasks of booking flights and accomodation for the Sena rebels.The 170-room Le Meridien hotel on Surat-Dumas Road was chosen, sources said, because it was located just a km off the Surat airport. “In the case of an emergency all the MLAs could have been rushed in a short time to the Surat airport, which has good domestic air connectivity as well as parking space for chartered planes,” said a source.Surat, which is home to some of the country’s leading diamond barons, is not only flush with funds but has also those businessmen “willing to back such an operation”, of whom several own chartered planes too, sources said.Sources in the Surat BJP unit said that prior to the arrival of Shinde’s flock of MLAs to the city, local party leaders had contacted Le Meridien and made arrangements for their accommodation there.Before the MLAs checked into the hotel, the Gujarat police personnel were already deployed in its premises. The MLAs were kept in rooms on the hotel’s fourth floor, with the BJP leaders being present there to take care of their requirements. The cops in plainclothes were also stationed on different floors to ensure no one breached the cordon, and to keep the flock “insulated” from curious visitors. Three layers of security were ensured outside the hotel with only guests with prior bookings allowed entry on showing their identity proofs. The hotel staff were stationed along with policemen, who had the list of such guests.“An operation with such precision and secrecy could not have happened without the knowledge of the BJP top brass,” said a Congress leader.

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