Raj Thackeray, a 20-something youth, who started his political career as a young wing leader has (over the years) went up to the ranks, thanks to his charisma. Having imbibed a lot of things from his uncle Bal Thackeray – including his looks, mannerism, oratory skills – he was once the blue-eyed boy of the Shiv Sena. Graduated from Mumbai’s prestigious JJ School of Art, Raj was someone who was fond of flashy lifestyle, but there have been dramatic and drastic lifestyle changes. Things changed a lot for him when Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav came into the limelight and Raj was conveniently sidelined. And thus Raj bid goodbye to the party in 2005, only to form his own party political party ‘Maharashtra Navanirman Sena’ a few months later. And the rest is history. Much else has changed since then.

When it comes to being the successor of Bal Thackeray, one of the many things that worked against Raj is the ‘Ramesh Kini Murder Case’. The case that made headlines in the 1990s and shook the then ruling Shiv Sena and BJP government. Although he was later declared innocent, the case did have an impact on Shiv Sena. And it was decided that choosing him the leader might have an impact in the Assembly elections.

What is Ramesh Kini Murder Case?

The case dates back to 1996, Ramesh and Sheila  Kini were tenants of Laxmi Nivas, a three-storeyed building in Matunga, under the pagdi rent system. His landlord Laxmichand Shah and his son Suman Shah tried to convince them to give up their flat so that they could redevelop the building. But the Kinis refused the offer. Suman took the help of his close friend Raj Thackeray, who was then with the Shiv Sena, part of the ruling government in Maharashtra. Sheila alleged that they were pressurised to vacate the flat.  Under mysterious circumstances, in July 1996, Ramesh disappeared and his body was discovered in Alka theatre in Pune. A hurried post mortem was conducted and the reports cited ‘ischemic heart disease’ as the cause of death. Sheila called a foul play and blamed Raj for her husband’s death.

 “It was expected”: Raj on getting a clean chit

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FPJ Archives

On August 29, 1997, the CBI filed charge sheets in a metropolitan court in Mumbai against a Vidyarthi Sena leader Ashutosh Rane, landlord Laxmichand Shah and his son Suman Shah. The three were charged with abetment to commit suicide under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. Raj was implicated in the case at the investigation stage. In a report published on August 30, 1997, Raj Thackeray speaks with The Free Press Journal on CBI’s decision to not file a charge sheet against him. He says, “It was certain to happen.” He further adds, “Right from the beginning we were telling the people that I was not guilty in the Kini case. But nobody listened to us. Now since the CBI itself has cleared me from the charges, they would understand what we meant.”

Accused Acquitted

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FPJ Archives

On August 19, 2002, six years after the Kini’s death, the trial court acquitted landlord Laxmichand Shah and his son Suman from the charge of abetment to commit suicide. Judge SP Nikam observed that it was not a case of suicide but Kini has met a natural death and passed away due to ischemic heart disease. The judge further noted that Kini was in a habit of writing suicidal notes as he had threatened his own uncle Anand Prabhu to vacate the same flat or else he would commit suicide. It was also noted that Prabhu was the original tenant and Kini was the sub-tenant.

Another accused Ashuthosh Rana was also discharged by the trial court which felt that there was no evidence to nail him in the crime.

Kini’s ‘Saamna’ visit

The trial court on August 19, 2002, noted that allegations about Kini visiting the ‘Saamna’ newspaper’s office a day before his death could not be proved. Further, evidence suggested that on the same day he had gone to meet his lawyer PG Lad.

Uddhav Rakes Up the Case

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FPJ Archives

In 2009, Raj Thackeray’s remarks ‘MNS contested the election as Shiv Sena MP’s failed to raise the ‘Marathi’ voice in Parliament’, did not go well with Uddhav Thackeray. And thus began the war of words between the two cousins. Uddhav in a statement to the media, said, “You say I voted for a non-Marathi candidate like Mahesh Jethmalani but it was with Ram Jethmalani that Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray was in constant contact to acquit you in the murder case of Ramesh Kini, a Marathi.”

Bhujbal Blames Raj

Chhagan Bhujbal, who started his career with the Shiv Sena party, in an old viral video, blames Raj Thackeray for the murder of Ramesh Kini. The date of the video is not known. In the video, Bhujbal is seen saying, “Kini was regularly called to the ‘Saamna’ office by Raj Thackeray, threatened and terrorised.” He also asks, “How did he land in Pune on the fateful day when all the public transport was disrupted due to rains. How did a man who did not even have Rs 1,000 with him reach there?” He also says how Sheila got in touch with him to find her husband after he went missing.

Sheila Kini Dies a Lonely Death

On March 15, 2011, Sheela Kini died a lonely death at her Matunga residence. After her death, her only son Nikhil sold the rights of the property and moved to the US.

BJP set to revive the ghost of the Ramesh Kini murder case?

It’s April 2019. It’s been over two decades now, but it seems the case is back to haunt Raj Thackeray. He has emerged as one of the stars of Lok Sabha Elections 2019, even without contesting. His well-researched speeches are backed by video clips and counter to BJP government’s tall promises and poor performance. His speeches and rallies have only one aim ‘to bring an end to the Modi-Shah era’. The attacks did not go well with the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It seems BJP is all set to respond to Raj Thackeray by raking up Ramesh Kini Murder Case and Kohinoor Mills deal. According to Mumbai Mirror, BJP is planning to release a video that highlights Thackeray’s past and show a tell-all. The tabloid also quotes a source in the BJP that reveals the discussions are on in the party about which issues to include in the presentation. Ramesh Kini Murder case and Kohinoor Mill deal are few of the probable issues.

(Compiled by Sonali Pimputkar)