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BJP Sees ‘ISIS Link’ to Ahmed Patel, Hospital but is Selective on Guilt by Association

The terror suspect was hired on the basis of a letter of recommendation from CARE Hospital, Surat, but Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani has so far not made a public issue of that.

Sardar Patel Hospital and Heart Institute, Ankaleshwar, Gujarat. Credit: YouTube

Ahmedabad: Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani in a press conference on Friday demanded the resignation of Congress Rajya Sabha member of parliament Ahmed Patel, linking him to one of the two alleged ISIS operatives arrested on October 25. Rupani said that one of the suspects worked as a lab technician at a hospital “managed” by Ahmed Patel.

The alleged ISIS operative was identified as 31-year-old Kasim Stimberwala, who was arrested along with 29-year-old Ubed Mirza by the Gujarat anti-terrorism squad (ATS) from Surat. According to the FIR, Stimberwala worked as a technician in the Sardar Patel Hospital and Heart Institute, Ankaleshwar, a taluka in Bharuch district, where Patel had been a trustee earlier.

The chief minister demanded that Patel explain how the accused youth was recruited and why he resigned a few days before being arrested. “Was he (the arrested terror suspect) asked to resign,” he questioned.

Congratulating the ATS, Rupani further said, “ATS averted major attacks that the duo had planned on a Hindu god man, Hindu shrines and a synagogue. They (terror suspects) were well prepared and were to flee abroad after conducting the attack.”

“Patel was earlier a trustee of the hospital and resigned in 2014. He, however, continued to be involved in matters of the hospital and even invited the then President Pranab Mukherjee to inaugurate premises in the year 2016,” added the chief minister. “This is a serious issue. An ISIS operative has been found working in a hospital that is being run by Ahmed Patel. Both Patel and Congress should explain themselves and come clean on the matter.”

The hospital website lists eight Gujarat-based businessmen as trustees – Kamlesh Udani, Chandravadan Joshi, Rajesh Manubarwala, Sujauddin Vazifdar, Jyoti Bhai Modi, Harish Mehta, Bharat Mehta and Jayesh Patel – and it is not clear if the chief minister wants them all to also “explain themselves and come clean on the matter.”

File photo of Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani. Credit: PTI

Union minister and BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also stated that the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and president Sonia Gandhi needed to respond. He said that it could not be a mere coincidence that the Congress MP is related to the hospital.

In their rush to score political points, what Rupani and Naqvi may not have factored in is how far the logic of ‘guilt by association’ can stretch. For Patel is not the only ‘trustee’ the hospital has or has had. And if the arrested man’s  antecedents are probed, then the fact that the Sardar Patel Hospital hired him on the basis of a letter of recommendation from Care Hospital, Surat might also end up being of interest to anti-terror investigators.

Kamlesh Lalitkumar Udani, one of the eight trustees of the Sardar Patel hospital, told The Wire, “Kasim Stimberwala was recruited as an Echo TMT Technician on March 1, 2017 and was on probation. He had experience of about eight to ten years of working in acclaimed hospitals such as CARE Hospital, Surat, Wockhardt hospital etc. He was referred by one of our doctors and an outgoing technician was to be considered as a replacement in his place. Kasim also had a recommendation letter from CARE hospital. He was hired after considering all these factors.”

Udani released a copy of the letter CARE hospital gave Stimberwala in November 2016.

Letter of recommendation from Care Hospital, Surat, for Stimberwala.

The Surat hospital is a unit of CARE Hospitals, a nationwide chain promoted by the renowned cardiologist Dr. B. Somaraju. It was inaugurated in 2008 by Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

Inauguration of CARE Hospitals, Surat by Narendra Modi in 2008. Credit: pharmaleadeers.tv

Of course, Stimberwala joined CARE hospital, Surat several years after Modi inaugurated it, just as he joined the Sardar Patel hospital after Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel had inaugurated the cardiac unit of the Sardar Patel Hospital’s cardiac unit in October 2016.

According to Udani, Stimberwala “resigned on October 4, 2017 and was  relieved of his duties on October 24, 2017”. Nevertheless,  if the fact of his brief employment at the Sardar Patel Hospital is seen by chief minister Rupani as evidence of a wider conspiracy that implicates its trustees, then it may only be a matter of time before he feels constrained to order a probe into the circumstances under which Care Hospital – which has since closed down – had recommended the arrested man for the job.

Unless of course Rupani’s concern was prompted not by the possibility of a real conspiracy but, as the Congress party alleges, a desire to play politics with national security in the run up to the Gujarat assembly elections.

Patel resigned as trustee but played role in founding of hospital

Either way, it does appear as if the Congress leader in the eye of the controversy played no role in the day-to-day functioning of the Ankleshwar hospital and did in fact resign as trustee at least three years ago.

Jayesh N. Patel, a trustee of the hospital, said: “Ahmed Patel was a trustee of the hospital till September 2014. He had resigned on September 1, 2013 with immediate effect but his resignation was not accepted by the trust and the management kept urging him to re-consider his decision. But he could not be persuaded to continue as a trustee.”

The Wire has seen a copy of Patel’s letter of resignation – written by hand on a plain sheet of paper rather than on letterhead – but is not able to independently verify when it was first submitted.

Jayesh N. Patel explained: “His handwritten resignation and a letter of acceptance from the side of the hospital trust was submitted to the charitable commissioner later. An affidavit was filed as a part of process to strike off Ahmed Patel’s name from the list of trustees. This process continued till September 2014. However, even as a trustee till 2013, Ahmed Patel was never involved in decision making. His name was in the list of trustees as he one of the eminent personalities of Bharuch. On October 16, 2016 when we re-invented the hospital, both Ahmed Patel and then President Pranab Mukherjee had attended the inauguration”.

Whatever his formal affiliation in recent years, it is clear that Ahmed Patel played a considerable role in the foundation of the hospital, according to the hospital’s website.

On June 17, 1979, he, along with other trustees established the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Rotary General Hospital. The hospital that was flagged off with surgical, medical, maternity, ophthalmic, orthopaedic and gynaecological facilities was initially facing a fund crunch to build modern facilities, the website of the hospital says.

It was then that Morari Bapu, a known Hindu kathakar organised a ‘Ram Katha’ from February 25, 1981 to March 5, 1981 to raise funds for the hospital, following which Rs 4 lakh was collected from various donors. The foundation stone of the hospital was laid on May 25, 1981 by Haricharandas Tyagi – a saint, the website says.

Later a doctor – Barjoji Ankleshwaria – donated his house along with some land to the hospital trust. He also donated Rs 40,000 and a monthly grant of Rs 4000. Owing to Patel’s association with the hospital, the district planning board also donated Rs 3 lakh. Thereafter, the hospital building, built by the Jaypee Group, was inaugurated on October 22, 1985. In the year 1986, on the recommendation of Ahmed Patel, the Bharuch District Oil Field Development Society donated Rs 3 lakh to the hospital. Major equipment was donated by GAIL (India) Limited and ONGC Ltd.

“Ahmed Patel is a man of prominence in the area. He comes to attend various events and functions in and around Ankaleshwar and had attended the inauguration of this hospital as well. He has helped the hospital trust many a times,” Udani told The Wire.

“The trustees are all businessmen,” Udani added. “We have  nothing to do with the arrested terror accused. He was just one of about 150 employees we have, including technicians and doctors” he said.

“The hospital started with 36 beds and has 100 beds today. We are a small hospital in a taluka aimed at providing cheap medical care to the downtrodden at a time when medical care has become so costly,” Jayesh Patel told The Wire. He denied Ahmed Patel or his family had a  connection to the hospital or the trust.

On Friday, Ahmed Patel took to Twitter to counter the BJP’s allegations. “My party and I appreciate the ATS’s effort to nab the two terrorists. I demand strict and speedy action against them. The allegations put by BJP are completely baseless. We request that the matters of national security not be politicised keeping elections in mind. Let’s not divide peace loving Gujaratis while fighting terrorism,” he stated.

The allegations put forward by BJP are completely baseless. (2/3)

We request that matters of national security not be politicised keeping elections in mind (3/3)

On Sunday, Patel wrote a letter to Union home minister Rajnath Singh accusing the BJP in Gujarat of “vitiating a serious onjoing investigation just ahead of elections by making wild and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Damayantee Dhar is a freelance reporter.