IT WAS a fight over a seat in the upcoming civic elections to the Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation that allegedly led to the murder of sitting Congress corporator Manoj Mhatre on Tuesday night. The police have named Mhatre’s cousin Prashant as the prime accused who allegedly led six others to attack Mhatre outside his Bhiwandi residence. The seven accused have been booked on charge of murder and are currently on the run. Three of them have been detained.
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Zonal deputy commissioner Manoj Patil said, “Based on the CCTV footage we have scanned, it appears that seven people reached Mhatre’s Oswalwadi residence in Bhiwandi around 9 pm on Tuesday in a four-wheeler and a bike. Four accused, including Prashant, Mhatre’s first cousin, were involved in the actual attack. He was shot with a 12 bore firearm once after which he was attacked using a chopper and sword. A chopper has been recovered from the scene of crime.”
The complainant in the case is Pradeep, the 30-year-old driver who had ferried Mhatre from the local Narpoli police station to his residence. Mhatre was attacked inside the residential building while Pradeep was parking the car outside it. According to Mhatre’s mother, he regularly had bodyguards with him. They dropped him outside the building and then left before the attack took place.
In his complaint, Pradeep has told police that Prashant and Mhatre had several fights over Mhatre not vacating his seat in favour of Prashant in the 90-seat Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation. Mhatre, who has six cases registered against him, was a popular corporator in his locality and was in his third term as a corporator, having first been elected in 2002.
The driver said that in 2002, Mhatre had first been given the chance to contest the corporation election by the wanted accused Prashant’s father Bhaskar Mhatre, the then corporator. Over the past few years, Prashant had approached Mhatre to step down as corporator and allow him to contest since it was his father who had given Mhatre the opportunity in the first place. After Mhatre did not agree, it often led to fights between the two cousins and Prashant even spent a month behind bars after an attempt to murder Mhatre failed in October 2013. Prashant has over 10 cases registered against him.
“So far, it appears that this is the same reason why Prashant attacked Mhatre since the elections are slated to be held soon,” said an officer. What may have acted as a trigger for Prashant to attack Mhatre was the fact that the latter had on the same day gone to Narpoli police to register a case against Prashant and his accomplice. “Mhatre had gone to the Narpoli police to complain against Prashant who had threatened Mhatre’s associate Uma Shankar Yadav. The local police registered a non-cognizable complaint against Prashant and within a few hours, Prashant attacked Mhatre.”
Meanwhile, in the Oswalwadi area, shops were closed on Wednesday as the final rites were attended by at least a 1,000 people, mostly comprising locals. A family member said, “Yesterday, there was a religious function and for the first time, Mhatre had observed a fast. We were all fasting as well and were waiting for him to come home to break the fast. What happened is very unfortunate.”
Shoaib Guddu, a Congress leader from Bhiwandi, said, “We all knew there was some family dispute. Just two days ago I had a discussion with Mhatre about Prashant wanting to contest elections. I told him we will get him to contest in some other seat and Mhatre agreed. We have lost an important leader ahead of the elections.”
BJP Member of Parliament Kapil Patil said, “What happened is sad. I visited the family of Mhatre in the morning to pay my condolences.” On reports that Prashant was a BJP worker, Patil said he wasn’t sure.