It was Pratap Sarnaik’s decision to present his erstwhile boss, NCP’s Ajit Pawar, a diamond studded cellphone – valued at Rs 15 lakh in 2008 – that propelled the then 44-year-old NCP corporator from Thane into the limelight.
Sarnaik, whose residence and office were raided by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday in connection with an alleged money laundering case, used to eke out a living as an autorickshaw driver in the 1980s in Thane. He went on to make his fortune in the realty boom that hit the satellite city in the last two decades.
Ending his association with the NCP over a perceived slight in the appointment of the leader of the Opposition in the Thane Municpal Corporation, Sarnaik joined the Shiv Sena in November 2008. His political career took wing after that and he is now a three-time MLA from Ovla-Majhiwada constituency in Thane.
Sarnaik is a big player in Thane’s real estate scene through his Vihang Group of Companies, which also runs hospitality businesses in and around Thane and Mumbai.
Since becoming an MLA in 2009, Sarnaik’s assets have increased by nearly 800 per cent – from Rs 16 crore in 2009 to Rs 143 crore in 2019 as per his election affidavit. The flamboyant politician counts Bollywood actors among his friends, and is known for organising Dahi Handi festivities in Thane on a large scale.
In September, he was named as party spokesperson by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. In charge of Mira Bhayander, Sarnaik played an important role in ensuring Independent MLA Geeta Jain’s entry into Shiv Sena last month. Jain, a former BJP mayor of Mira Bhayander, had rebelled against the BJP candidate and won the Assembly polls last year.
In the last few months, Sarnaik had been vocal against the BJP over several issues, including seeking a re-investigation into the suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik, who left a note accusing Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and two others of not clearing his dues.
He had also moved a breach of privilege motion in the state Legislative Assembly against Goswami, accusing him of using “derogatory language” and making baseless remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar, and taken on actor Kangana Ranaut for comparing Mumbai with Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
His elder son, Vihang, who was detained by the ED for questioning in the alleged money laundering case, is involved in the family business. His younger son, Purvesh, is a corporator in Thane Municipal Corporation. While Purvesh is also a secretary of the Aaditya Thackeray-led Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena, Vihang is a member of the core team of Yuva Sena.
Purvesh is married to Kashmira Patil, daughter of BJP minister Dr Ranjit Patil in the previous Devendra Fadnavis government.
On Tuesday evening, Sarnaik met Shiv Sena MP and party spokesperson Sanjay Raut in the Saamana office. “We are unaware of the ED investigation and are gathering the information about it,” he told mediapersons after meeting Raut.