A symbol to ward off the evil eye frowns down at passersby from the first floor of a newly constructed, four-storey building in Faridabad’s Sector 31 in Haryana. It’s Monday and the street is empty, except for a few cars.
The reason for this silence lies over 1,600 km away, with the arrest of a priest in Telangana last week. The priest, Satish Sharma, moved into this building just three or four months ago, paying a sum of Rs 1.25 crore for the first-floor flat and registering it in the names of his wife and mother-in-law.
Neighbours say they know very little about the young priest and his wife. Their reticence is unsurprising – on October 26, Sharma and two others were arrested for purportedly trying to poach four legislators of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, formerly the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
The FIR in the matter, filed in Cyberabad, describes Sharma as a “priest” and a “BJP worker”.
BRS head and Telangana chief minister K Chandrsekhar Rao the BJP of trying to topple his party. The BJP that KCR himself had “staged” the entire affair.
Newslaundry visited Sharma’s street in Faridabad to find out what neighbours had to say.
According to the FIR, the three men offered Rs 100 crore to Tandur MLA Pilot Rohit Reddy and Rs 50 crore to three other MLAs. The three men have been booked under charges of criminal conspiracy, bribery and corruption. Sharma, who also goes by Ramachandra Bharati, was arrested, as were Simahyaji, a priest from Tirupati, and Nandu Kumar Kore, a businessman.
A court drama ensued, with a special ACB court rejecting the police’s request for remand of the accused. On October 29, this order was overturned by a single-judge bench of Telangana High Court Justice Chillakur Sumalatha, paving way for 14 days’ judicial custody.
Interestingly, on the same day, another single-judge high court bench of Justice B Vijaysen Reddy deferred the investigation in the case to November 4. This was after the state BJP filed a separate petition with this judge, seeking the transfer of the case to the CBI or an SIT for “fair investigation”.
Amid these conflicting orders, police are confused. “As per Justice Chillakur Sumalatha’s order, we have got 14-day judicial custody. And as per Justice B Vijayasen Reddy’s order, we have deferred the investigation. Unless this order is set aside, it will create hurdles in investigation,” Shamshabad DCP R Jagadishwar Reddy told Newslaundry.
Meanwhile, on November 1, the three accused filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, asking it to set aside Justice Sumalatha’s order.
On cow urine, cancer and Akhand Bharat
Sharma, 33, is originally from Kerala. Little is known about him but , purportedly from a 2020 event in Hyderabad, gives some context, with Sharma speaking on the efficacy of cow urine, the futility of greed, and why one must forsake jeans and t-shirts. As he speaks, his co-accused, Simhayaji, sits next to him.
The video was from a 12-day congregation of seers, called Vajpaye Somayagam, in Hyderabad’s Pragati Resorts in December 2020. Newslaundry could not authenticate the veracity of the video. But a Pragati Resorts spokesperson Dr Ravindra and a member of the event’s organising team confirmed to Newslaundry that both Sharma and Simhayaji were in attendance. An official at the resort also told Newslaundry that Sharma – whom he described as a “young IT grad” – had attended the event.
On the arrests, the organising committee member told Newslaundry: “It has come as a surprise to us. It is a big blow to Sanatan Dharma.”
In the video, Sharma is introduced by a woman as an MTech postgraduate from Mangalore University and a sanyasi. She says he took sanyas, renunciation, at an ashram in Uttarakhand in 2009. She also praises him for his alleged inputs to the government for the National Education Policy: “He is highly educated. He has a Masters in technology...He took a pledge at a very young age and joined the army of leaders who want to make this country ‘Sundar Bharat’ and ‘Jagatguru’.”
Sharma then tells the gathering he was invited to the event by Simhayaji. He shares his changed outlook on money and says he once worked in Germany as an IT professional. “Earlier, I used to sit in front of the computer for three-four hours at a stretch and run after money,” he says. “Now, I am trying to avoid it.”
He talks about how he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and given two years to live. Speaking in third person, he says, “The boy goes to Pathmeda [in Rajasthan]...He drank cow urine and bathed with it twice, morning and evening. After six months, the boy remembered he had to get himself checked again…After the test, the doctor said it is better.”
He adds, “On December 21, that boy is sitting right here at Pragati Resorts in Hyderabad.” The crowd applauds.
Next, Sharma rues the present generation’s mistrust in the “ancient methods of medicine”. He talks about how his mother told him to never let go of Hindutva, even if it meant death, when he set off for his sanyas. He concludes by asking his audience to commit towards the creation of an “Akhand Bharat”.
About two years after this video was shot, Sharma moved into the flat in Faridabad.
A 2,000 sq ft flat and a temple
In Faridabad, Sharma moved into the three-bedroom flat – a neighbour said it’s approximately 2,000 sq feet – along with his wife. The street tends towards upper-middle class families with expansive houses. Sharma worked at a “South Indian temple” nearby, neighbours told Newslaundry.
“He would go in the morning and return in the evening,” one said. “We have not had much interaction with the family because of their recent arrival.” Another said, “Don’t bother us.” Neighbours did not want to be quoted for fear of “trouble” or “political sensitivity” of the case.
Sharma’s flat on the first floor of Building No. 229 was locked. “There is nobody in the flat right now,” said a resident. “His wife has left for some other place after Panditji’s arrest.”
Entries and exits to the building were digitally manned by a video doorbell. The parking space on the ground floor contained two white SUVs, one of which had a Telangana registration number, and a motorbike.
The temple where Sharma worked is about 200 metres from his home. Named Shree Krishna and Navagraha Temple, it is run by the Shree Krishna Sewa Samiti, or SKSS. An employee at the temple said the samiti runs “several” temples across India. Sharma was part of an that met minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan in March.
There were around 10 people at the temple on Monday evening; from the temple’s Facebook page indicates its first structure was built in 1993 on land allotted by the Haryana Urban Development Authority.
Gopa Kumar, the secretary of the samiti, told Newslaundry that Sharma began work at the temple about a year ago. When asked about the case against Sharma, he said, “The case was politically motivated. He is a good person and has been working as a priest for the past year.” He added that Sharma is from Kerala and his wife from Delhi, and refused to speak further.
A Telangana police officer told Newslaundry that Sharma was born and raised in Karnataka before moving to Kasaragod in Kerala. However, the officer added that the police “can’t interrogate the accused as the investigation has been deferred until November 4 when the high court again takes up the case. So, we know very little so far about them.”
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Sharma’s building in Faridabad.
The temple he worked at.
The police’s version of events
The police’s version of events can be pieced together from the FIR and a remand report filed with a local anti-corruption bureau court in Hyderabad.
According to the police, Sharma, Nandu and Simahyaji visited a farmhouse in Ranga Reddy district’s Moinabad at 3.10 pm on October 26. They were purportedly joined by BRS MLAs Pilot Rohith Reddy from Tandur, Guvvala Balraj from Achampet, Harshavardhan Reddy from Kollapur, and Rega Kantha Rao from Pinapaka. The meeting was monitored by the police using spy cameras. The three men allegedly offered Pilot Rs 100 crore and Rs 50 crore each to the three other MLAs as well as posts and positions.
Pilot Rohith Reddy registered a police complaint, and an FIR was filed at Moinabad police station under the Cyberabad police commissionerate. The FIR invoked penal charges under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 171-B (bribery), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (common criminal intent), as well as section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The police also recovered two phones, including an iPhone, and a laptop from Sharma; an iPhone from Nandu; and a Samsung phone from Simahyaji, apart from seizing air tickets, a diary and a vehicle.
The Telangana police also included screenshots of text exchanges, purportedly from Sharma’s iPhone, in its remand report. These messages were allegedly sent on April 28 by Sharma to one “Santosh BJP”: “Total sitting 26 members are ready to join us, they are all in my circle…plan is to join us 40 members ASAP.”
A list of the four MLAs followed in the same chat on October 25. “All are sitting MLAs from TRS,” the message said. “Ready here in Hyderabad for shifting immediately. Need an appointment as soon as possible. Before that they need some VITAMIN HELP for 3 people.”
A screenshot from the remand report.
A police officer from Cyberabad claimed that “VITAMIN” was a codeword for cash.
Another screenshot alleges Sharma’s iPhone was used to make an appointment with one Sunil Kumar “to discuss Telangana”. The number of this Sunil Kumar from the screenshot can be found on the BJP’s website; it belongs to party national general secretary Sunil Kumar Bansal. The BJP leader could not be reached immediately
Similar messages were purportedly found on Nandu’s phone. Audio clips, widely shared online and reported by , between a man and MLA Pilot focus on defection of party MLAs. Photos of Simahyaji and Nandu with BJP leaders have also been widely shared online.
On November 3, the BRS shared four video clips with the media of purported conversations between the three accused and the four MLAs. In one of the clips, Sharma allegedly says “money is not an issue” and that each MLA will get Rs 50 crore after they defect. He’s also heard speaking to one Tushar on the phone and saying the MLAs “were ready” for the switch.
In its remand report filed before the Telangana High Court on October 27, the Cyberabad police claimed to have found the number, which Sharma dialled during the meeting, saved under “Tushar Vellapally Kerala SNDP” in Sharma’s phone. According to a poll affidavit, the same phone number belongs to one Tushar Vellapally, who contested in the 2019 general election on a ticket of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a political arm of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam. He contested in Wayanad against Rahul Gandhi. The Bharat Dharma Jana Sena allied with the BJP during this election.
Update at 12.45 pm, Nov 4: The section ‘On cow urine, cancer and Akhand Bharat’ has been added with details of a speech Sharma made in Hyderabad in 2020. The report has also been updated with details of Sharma meeting V Muraleedharan in March, and the media clips released by the BRS on November 2. The headline has been updated.
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