Modi, woman's father and IAS officer crossed paths at Bhuj jewellery market

ModiGujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. (Reuters)

Till he found himself at the centre of the Gujarat snooping row, Pranlal Soni was known in Bhuj for both his family's flourishing jewellery business and for, back in 2001, using it to help rebuild a market in the city after that year's devastating earthquake. Soni did so, incidentally, at the initiative of another person in the snooping row, now suspended IAS officer Pradeep Sharma. Three years later, when the revamped market opened, the person to inaugurate it would be Narendra Modi, who would have taken over as Chief Minister by then.

That's the only time the paths of the three are known to have crossed. There is some talk of Soni having been an RSS member, but few in Kutch district, under which Bhuj falls, back that. How that association centred around a jewellery market led up to the current row, involving Soni's daughter and both an affidavit by Sharma indicting Modi and letters by Soni absolving him, is something few in Bhuj admit to have a clue about.

In the intervening 12 years, a lot has changed. Starting with the fact that 65-year-old Soni, a prominent member of Bhuj's Rotary Club, now lives in Ahmedabad with his wife. A few months ago, he also sold off his jewellery shop.

In 2001 though, that shop at the corner of Dhobi Street on Bhuj's Suhag ring road, Hem Jewellers, was a known landmark of the city. It was started by Pranlal's father, the late Narbheram. The second of Narbheram's three sons, Pranlal holds a Mechanical Engineering degree but followed in his father's footsteps to become a leading member of the city jeweller community. Traders in Sharaf and Kansara bazars, the jewellery market of Bhuj, give credit to Soni for widening the Sharaf Bazaar lane after the 2001 earthquake. Pradeep Sharma was the district collector of Kutch at the time. "Pranlal convinced jewellers and owners of other shops in Sharaf Bazaar to give up some part of their premises so that the alley could be turned into a wider road. Sharma also took keen interest in widening of the bazaar and the two developed a very fine understanding," admits a member of the Soni family.

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