Secret meetings. Backroom deals. Supposedly sensational exposes. These are but some of the hallmarks of an Indian election cycle.
And all of this seems to be happening in Gujarat, if media reports and journalist chatter from the poll-bound state are to be believed.
The reports say that Hardik Patel, who spearheaded the Patidar reservation movement in the state, secretly met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday.
Reports also say that Patel, who hasn't openly backed either the BJP or the Congress, along with some leaders of the Grand Old Party, 'guided' Narendra Patel who on Sunday claimed he had been offered Rs 1 crore to join the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On Monday evening, Gujarati TV channels animatedly broadcast CCTV footage from cameras installed at a five-star hotel in Ahmedabad.
The footage purportedly showed Hardik Patel entering and moving about the hotel, and the media channels' assertion was that he was there to meet Rahul Gandhi, who was in Gujarat to address a rally in state capital Gandhinagar.
Hardik Patel was seen at The Ummed, informally called the TajA source close to the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) founder told India Today TV that Hardik Patel did indeed meet with Gandhi in room number 224 of Ahmedabad's The Ummed, a five-star hotel which is informally called the Taj as it was once operated by the hospitality chain.
Patel denied meeting the Congress vice-president, but accepted that he was at the hotel. Hardik claimed he was at The Ummed to meet Ashok Gehlot, the Congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, and other leaders of the party.
"The Congress leaders had invited me to meet them but I was at a rally in Mahisagar district. I reached very late, may be 3 am, and met Ashok Gehlot. I presented the demands of the Patidars and the issues we are concerned about," Hardik Patel was quoted as saying by news agency IANS.
The Patel leader had earlier on Monday said that he would not be able to meet Gandhi during the Congress vice-president's visit. He told news channel NDTV that a meeting with Rahul was supposed to take place but was postponed due to "unavoidable engagements".
CURIOUS CASE OF THE CCTV FOOTAGE
Clips from the CCTV cameras at The Ummed, however, seemed to tell a different story. While Patel said, according to IANS, that he was at the hotel at "may be 3 am", one of the CCTV clips showed him at The Ummed at around 11.30 pm Sunday night.
IndiaToday.in does have access to and has seen some of the intriguing CCTV footage (you can watch it here or at the end of this report), but has not been able to independently verify the videos' accuracy.
Rahul, anyway, was likely not in Gujarat Sunday night. But the rumours that Hardik met the Gandhi scion, who is tipped to take over the Congress party soon, perhaps came from another CCTV clip that purportedly showed the Patel leader still at the hotel Monday evening, at around 4 pm.
IndiaToday.in does not have access to this particular video clip, which was shared on Twitter by a local journalist based out of Ahmedabad. In this clip, a man who looks like Hardik Patel is seen being escorted out of an elevator by a person dressed in a black suit.
?? ?? ??????, ??????? ?? ??? 4 ???? 19 ???? ?? ???? ???? ?? ?????? pic.twitter.com/ihRQgCBybe- Janak Dave (@dave_janak) October 23, 2017
Patel while denying he met Rahul had said that he left The Ummed Monday morning. "It had got very late, so I put up at the hotel (on Sunday night) and left in the morning," Hardik was quoted as saying by IANS.
But, where did the CCTV footage come from in the first place?
There are no solid answers to the question, but Congress's Gujarat in-charge Ashok Gehlot, who confirmed he had met Hardik, had something to say on the topic.
"I met Hardik and Jignesh in Ummed Hotel. Intelligence Bureau, Police are checking hotel rooms," Gehlot said on Twitter, questioning, "Why CCTV footage was (sic) taken by IB and police from Hotel?"
Why CCTV footage was taken by IB n police from Hotel? Is the right to privacy, sole proprietorship of #JayAmitShah?- Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) October 23, 2017
MEANWHILE, THE NARENDRA PATEL ANGEL
Interestingly, a local daily used the CCTV footage to advance a report that Hardik Patel and several Congress leaders, Gehlot included, had met at The Ummed to plan the Narendra Patel expose from Sunday night.
On Sunday, just three hours after joining the Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Patel, a local convenor of Hardik Patel's PAAS, spectacularly claimed that he had been offered Rs 1 crore to switch loyalties to the party.
At a press conference late Sunday night, Narendra Patel claimed Varun Patel, a former aide of Hardik, had arranged the deal and had advanced Rs 10 lakh in cash. Narendra Patel displayed the cash at the presser.
Varun Patel took me to a meeting where it was discussed that I will be given Rs 1 Cr & received the money from his hands: Narendra Patel pic.twitter.com/pltGEGxV6G- ANI (@ANI) October 23, 2017
Now, Divya Bhaskar has reported that while Narendra Patel was brandishing wads of Rs 500 notes at his press conference, Hardik Patel was with a few Congress leaders at a room at The Ummed.
Narendra Patel contacted Hardik after purportedly joining the BJP, which was when the plan to "expose" the BJP was hatched, the Bhaskar report said.
The Gujarati daily, quoting unnamed sources, further said that Narendra Patel was "guided" by Hardik Patel and the Congress leaders on how to "expose" the BJP.
(With inputs from Gopi Maniar in Ahmedabad)