A self-styled godman allegedly involved in the 2013 murder of BSP leader Deepak Bhardwaj was arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district after eluding police for four years, police said on Saturday. Machhendra Nath alias Baba Pratibhanand, on whose head Delhi Police had placed a Rs 1 lakh bounty, was arrested from the railway station here on Friday night by a team led by Superintendent of Police, City, Akash Tomar, SSP Ghaziabad H.N. Singh said at a press conference here. Police swooped in on Pratibhanand, a resident of Maharashtra’s Beed, on a tip-off about his presence. A .32 bore pistol and cartridges were seized from Pratibhanand, who confessed to his crime during interrogation.
Pratibhanand confessed that while selling ayurvedic medicines in a temple, he had come in contact with lawyer Baljeet Sahrawat, through whom he came into touch with Bhardwaj’s younger son Nitesh. Nitesh and his mother were not good relations with Bhardwaj and hired Pratibhanand to eliminate him for Rs 5 crore.
Out of this, Rs 50 lakh was paid in advance to buy weapons and other items like vehicles for the assailants. Pratibhanand got his driver Purshottam Rana and others to eliminate Bhardwaj, who was shot dead at his 34-acre Nitesh Kunj farmhouse near the toll plaza in Gurugram on March 26, 2013. Since then, Pratibhanand was on the run, travelling through Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, said the SSP.
The godman also told police that he had agreed to get Bhardwaj murdered so he could have enough money to establish an ashram in Haridwar and fulfil his childhood dream of heading a ‘Mutt’. Bhardwaj, who had contested the Lok Sabha election on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket in 2009, was the richest candidate in Delhi, having declared assets worth Rs 600 crore.