Explained: Nitesh Rane surrenders; what is the attempt-to-murder case against him?

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Maharashtra BJP MLA Nitesh Rane, the son of Union Minister Narayan Rane, surrendered before a court in Sindhudurg on Wednesday (February 2) in connection with a case of attempted murder filed against him at Kankavli police station.

The court sent Nitesh to police custody until February 4.

Wednesday’s developments came after counsel for Nitesh sought to withdraw his bail plea in Bombay High Court, and submitted that his client intended to surrender and join the investigation, even though he still had five days left of the 10-day protection from arrest granted to him by the Supreme Court.

The HC allowed him to withdraw the bail plea and disposed of the same.

What is the case against Nitesh?

The case against Nitesh relates to an alleged incident that took place on December 18 last year. The complainant, a 44-year-old Shiv Sena functionary named Santosh Parab, said the motorcycle that he was riding in Kankavli was hit by a Toyota Innova without a number plate.
Thereafter, a man had come out of the vehicle and allegedly told Parab, “You are with (Shiv Sena leader) Satish Sawant, right? I’ll show you.”

The man had then allegedly attempted to murder the complainant by stabbing him in the chest. The complainant said he had heard the alleged assailant say to another person in the car that they “should inform Gotya Sawant and Nitesh Rane”, before they fled from the spot.
Parab had approached the Kankavli police, after which an FIR was registered under sections 307 (attempt to murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

How did the case progress?

On December 30 last year, the sessions court in Sindhudurg rejected Nitesh’s application for anticipatory bail. The court had said that evidence including mobile phones was yet to be recovered and the accused confronted with them, and custodial interrogation was needed.
Nitesh had then moved the HC for anticipatory bail, which refused his plea on January 17. The court also rejected the anticipatory bail plea filed by co-accused Sandesh alias Gotya Sawant. However, it allowed pre-arrest bail to another accused, Manish Dalvi.

After counsel for Nitesh sought a stay on the operation of the order for two weeks to approach the Supreme Court for relief, the HC as a “last chance”, extended the state government’s assurance of no coercive action until January 27.

On January 27, the Supreme Court granted 10 days’ protection to Nitesh, and asked him to surrender before the trial court and seek regular bail.

On February 1, when Nitesh appeared before the Sindhudurg sessions court, his lawyer submitted that since the top court had given him 10 days’ protection, his presence before the trial court amounted to him surrendering. The prosecution opposed this, and sought a formal plea stating that he was surrendering.

It was also argued that Nitesh should first appear before the magistrate’s court and make a formal plea of surrender. The court would then decide on his custody, following which his regular bail plea could be heard. The sessions court agreed with this submission.

It said that without a written application to surrender and without being taken into custody, Nitesh’s application for bail was premature and hence not maintainable.

The court also said that since Nitesh’s plea for anticipatory bail had been rejected by the sessions court and the High Court, and the Supreme Court had said it did not want to interfere with that order, custodial interrogation was necessary. It said that circumstances had not changed since his anticipatory bail plea was rejected last month.

On same day, Rane moved Bombay High Court with the regular bail plea.

“In view of what has happened yesterday (February 1) in Sindhudurg court, applicant (Nitesh Rane) intends to surrender before the investigating officer during the course of the day and bail plea be allowed to be withdrawn. He intends to surrender to face the probe even though five-day protection is still left as per Supreme Court order,” advocate Satish Maneshinde told the HC on Wednesday.

What has Nitesh Rane argued before the courts?

Nitesh has argued that the FIR was registered due to “political vendetta and rivalry” in order to prevent his participation in the Sindhudurg District Co-operative Bank elections, which were to be held on December 30, 2021.

“This whole thing is a fallout of the catcalling incident that took place outside the Vidhan Bhawan on December 23. At that time, Shiv Sena leaders said Nitesh Rane would be taught a lesson,” his counsel argued.

It was also claimed that the calls between Rane’s personal assistant and the other accused were related to the work of the party, and that there was no evidence to link them to the alleged crime.

On December 23, Nitesh had allegedly mocked state minister Aaditya Thackeray by “meowing” as Thackeray walked past on the legislature’s premises. “The catcalling and lampooning incident had hurt the ruling party (Sena) so much that they have taken it as an insult and that is writ large in this FIR,” Nitesh’s counsel had argued before the HC.

The lawyer had added that invoking attempt-to-murder charges against his client was “preposterous”. Counsel for Nitesh had dismissed the allegations as “a figment of imagination”, and said the case was “cooked-up”.

What has been the police response?

The lawyer for Maharashtra Police submitted that Nitesh was the “mastermind” in the case, and that the accused were influencing witnesses.

“The state requires further custodial interrogation to establish the trail of money used to hire the alleged assailants for the assault,” counsel for the state said.

The government rejected Nitesh’s claims of a “political vendetta”, saying had that been the case, the BJP MLA could have been arrested immediately after the December 23 “catcalling” incident. “The conspiracy was unearthed only after the arrest of the accused Sachin Satpute, after which (Nitesh) Rane apprehended arrest,” police argued.

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Police said the alleged incident had taken place on December 18, Nitesh had been issued notice on December 21, and his statement had been recorded on December 24.

“Nitesh Rane cleverly did not contact his close confidant Sachin Satpute from his phone but did so from his personal assistant Rakesh Parab’s phone. It is not the first such case Nitesh Rane is involved in. There are a total six cases against him… The assailants were hired in Pune…and brought to Kankavli. The same modus operandi was used in other cases too.”

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