Mumbai: At a press conference Tuesday, Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut promised to deliver a big expose soon and made a string of allegations against certain Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, especially Kirit Somaiya.
Stating that the allegations he made were “just a trailer” and more revelations were to follow, Raut demanded Somaiya and his son Neil’s arrest for their alleged links to the multi-crore Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank fraud case. Raut alleged that Neil was a business partner of Rakesh Wadhwan, who is accused in the case.
Raut’s Tuesday conference was followed by former MP Kirit Somaiya’s own press conference Wednesday morning, during which he made counter allegations against Raut and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray. Raut answered with a Twitter barb, alleging that Somaiya was a blackmailer and “the victims of his extortion racket are now speaking up”.
While the allegations and counter-allegations made for a heavy news cycle, the Kirit Somaiya-Shiv Sena slugfest is one that has played out quite a few times in the past five years.
The first round of sparring between Somaiya and Shiv Sena leaders started a few months before the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, which the Shiv Sena and the BJP contested separately. With another civic election coming up this year, the attacks and counter attacks have grown shriller.
Speaking to ThePrint, political commentator Hemant Desai said, “The Shiv Sena’s rivalry with Kirit Somaiya is not very old. Somaiya started targeting the Shiv Sena over corruption in the Mumbai civic body since before the 2017 polls, and also made direct references to the Thackeray family as a ‘mafia raj’.”
“His attacks on the Shiv Sena sharpened after 2019, when he did not get a ticket for the Lok Sabha election, which the Shiv Sena and the BJP had fought in alliance,” he added.
Seeds of Sena-Somaiya conflict
Sixty-eight-year-old Somaiya, a chartered accountant, is a two-time MP known for his political activism, and his penchant for being the BJP’s backroom investigator, filing Right to Information requests and accessing official records to take on political rivals.
The BJP and Shiv Sena had contested the 2017 Mumbai civic election as rivals, though they were running the Maharashtra government in an alliance at the time.
BJP sources told ThePrint that back in 2016-17, ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election, leaders such as Ashish Shelar and Somaiya were taking on the Shiv Sena in preparation of contesting the election as rivals, while then CM Devendra Fadnavis was trying to play the good cop and maintain cordial relations with the Shiv Sena.
Somaiya would constantly target the Shiva Sena-run BMC for alleged lack of transparency in the civic body’s dealings, and dared Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray to publicly disclose his assets. Through the poll campaign, Somaiya kept alleging that the BMC was run by a “mafia of Bandra” in a covert reference to Thackeray, whose house, Matoshree, is located in the suburb. On the Dussehra of 2016, Shiv Sena workers allegedly assaulted Somaiya for his comments.
Another of Somaiya’s allegations was that Shiv Sena leaders were using a web of shell companies, listing the names of seven such firms, to launder money earned as kickbacks in BMC contracts.
Shiv Sena’s rivalry with Somaiya after 2019
Although the Shiv Sena continued to be in alliance with the BJP till 2019 in the state and the Centre, Somaiya’s aggression prompted the party to put the leader on their blacklist.
In 2019, when the Shiv Sena and the BJP decided to contest the Lok Sabha election in a pre-poll alliance, Shiv Sena leaders refused to campaign for the then incumbent MP Somaiya, leading to the BJP to drop him.
Ever since the two parties split after the 2019 assembly polls, Somaiya has intensified his attacks, questioning allegedly illegal land holdings and constructed properties of a host of Shiv Sena leaders — from Ravindra Waikar to Anil Parab, CM Thackeray’s personal assistant Milind Narvekar and the CM himself.
Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande told ThePrint, “The Shiv Sena is very strong in Somaiya’s former constituency of Mumbai North East and an alliance with the BJP had always helped in his victory. But, over the years, Shiv Sainiks saw that he had a very anti-Marathi approach. Somaiya systematically spread hatred among people against the Shiv Sena, and that is something that our party members could never digest.”
She added: “Somaiya has always tried to grab attention by staging gimmicks. None of his allegations have stuck,” she added.
The most recent allegations
Last week, Raut wrote to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu alleging that the BJP was misusing central investigating agencies to target Shiv Sena leaders and their kin, attempting to topple the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra.
Over the past two years, the Enforcement Directorate has taken action directly or indirectly against at least half a dozen leaders belonging to MVA parties. In several of these cases, Somaiya had publicly made allegations of graft against the leaders.
Earlier this month, Somaiya had made allegations of graft in the awarding of contracts regarding Covid Care Centres to a company owned by Raut’s aide Sujit Patkar. The ED had also conducted searches at Patkar’s residence and offices this month, in connection with the Patra Chawl land case, in which Pravin Raut, another aide of Sanjay Raut, has been arrested and Sanjay Raut’s wife’s name has surfaced.
Amid a massive show of strength at Dadar’s Shiv Sena Bhavan, Sanjay Raut then addressed a press conference, Tuesday, where he slammed Somaiya as “an agent of ED” and the “mastermind of the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank scam”. Many with party cadre and some senior Shiv Sena leaders were present at the conference.
Somaiya, meanwhile, has made little of the allegations. In a series of tweets Tuesday, the BJP leader said, “Till now that sarkar’s (Thackeray government’s) leaders have filed 10 cases against me and three more in pipeline process…I understand his (Raut’s) situation. I welcome one more case/investigation. We have not done anything wrong. Indulged in any corrupt practices”.
He also asked why the Thackeray government or Raut was not responding to his allegations about corruption in the awarding of Covid Care Centre contracts, and the links with Pravin Raut and Patkar.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)