An alleged suicide, allegations of political involvement and then, the transfer of the case to the CBI amid a public outcry. And while that may sound familiar, we're not talking about the Sushant Singh Rajput case that has been grabbing headlines for two months at this point.
Rather, this article visits a case all the way back in 1996 when the death of an ordinary man in Mumbai's Matunga sparked public outrage and eventually led to a CBI investigation. Interestingly, another Shiv Sena leader and more specifically, another Thackeray had found his name dragged into the case.
Ramesh and Sheila Kini were tenants at a three-storey building called Laxmi Nivas. Their landlord was Laxmichand Shah and his son Suman Shah was a friend of Raj Thackeray. At the time the MNS Chief had been a part of the Shiv Sena.
A conflict arose when the Kinis refused to vacate their apartment to allow Shah to redevelop the building. Sheila had alleged that they were being pressurised to vacate.
Soon after, in July 1996, Ramesh Kini disappeared. His body was then found in a theatre in Pune and it is here that the tale gets murky.
While some reports claim that according to a hurried post-mortem he had passed away due to ‘ischemic heart disease’, others suggest that it was a suicide. Sheila for her part had cried foul, blaming Raj Thackeray for her husband’s death.
Some including social activist Pushpa Bhave say that a second post-mortem had revealed that Kini's brain was missing.
What happened in the aftermath of Kini's death?
Raj Thackeray had insisted that he was innocent, alleging that the case was being used for political mileage. "The cause of Kini’s death is yet to be arrived at. You have not yet recovered evidence. How can arrests begin before this? How can people be arrested if this is just a suicide?" Dhaval Kulkarni quoted from August 1996 Saamana interview in his book, The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj And The Shadow Of Their Senas.
And while the CBI later, in August 1997 filed charge sheets against Vidyarthi Sena leader Ashutosh Rane and Laxmichand Shah and his son, no such action had been taken against Raj Thackeray. Eventually however, the Shahs were acquitted, more than six years after Kini's death, with Judge SP Nikam observing that Kini had died of natural causes due to his heart problems. Rane too was acquitted in the absense of substantial evidence that could tie him to the case.
The Supreme Court had later said that it did not not approve of the viewpoint of the High Court that it had ordered a CBI inquiry because of public outcry against Kini's death. "We are however, in agreement with the High Court in the fact and circumstances of the case, a CBI probe was imperative," the apex court had reportedly said. According to the police, Kini had committed suicide and a note recovered from his pocket corroborates this theory.
While the case continues to surface once in a while, perhaps in an attempt to score political brownie points, two decades later, it has not received closure in the manner many had wanted in 1996. While she had maintained her allegations and took on the ruling Shiv Sena, Sheila Kini's efforts were for naught. Raj Thackeray and others accused in the case were let off by the court or exonerated, and Sheila died a lonely death in 2011.
Years later in 2011, it was reported that Raj's company, Matoshree Realtors would be redeveloping Laxmi Nivas and in 2014, the building was razed.
What's happening in the Sushant Singh Rajput case?
There are a few strange parallels between the Kini Case and the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. The actor had died on June 14, seemingly committing suicide by hanging himself. While the Mumbai Police had begun investigations, with the Bihar police joining in later, the case has now been handed over to the CBI.
"To ensure public confidence in the investigation and to do complete justice in the matter, this Court considers it appropriate to invoke the powers conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution," the apex court said.
Aaditya Thackeray's name has cropped up in the discussion around Rajput's death with some claiming that he was associated with Rhea Chakraborty. A photo of Thackeray with another individual went viral, with people claiming that it was Rhea. Aaditya for his part claims that he has nothing to do with the case.
"There is mudslinging against me and Thackeray family in Sushant's death case and it is being done out of frustration," Thackeray had said adding that those who don't have faith in law are making such baseless charges.