Sheena Bora murder case: Sanjeev Khanna had eyes on politics, films

Last week, a confidant of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee drew her attention to a photograph of Sanjeev Khanna, one of three accused in the Sheena Bora murder case, sharing the dais with Budge Budge TMC legislator Ashok Kumar Deb, health department head Tarun Roy and local police station head Santiranjan Panja at a function in Kolkata.

Sanjeev Khanna
Sanjeev Khanna, biz man, dart player and accused in the Sheena Bora case

Banerjee demanded an immediate clarification. After an hour of heated arguments, the worried district level TMC leaders explained that Khanna was “substituting for businessman Ajay Rawla, the actual invitee”. Incidentally, it was from Rawla’s Alipore home that his friend Khanna was arrested by the Mumbai police on August 27.

Khanna, say his close friends, had shifted his focus to politics from something he had long loved: a game of darts. “Once an ace dart player, he was often hired by Kolkata clubs for their tournaments. But he had other business interests. Actually, he had all kinds of interests,” says Prasanta Saha, lead dart player at the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC), where Khanna was member.

Late last year, Khanna, say district level TMC leaders, had offered cash to renovate the Budge Budge ferry ghat, where Swami Vivekananda landed in 1897 when he returned from his Chicago visit. He wanted to turn the sleepy neighbourhood into a smart city, and was seen as a wannabe industrialist in cash-starved Bengal. “His proximity to the ruling party was natural,” says Sudhin Saha, a resident living close to a zamindar’s house, renovated by Rawla into a heritage weekend getaway. But, his keenness to renovate a line of temples close to the zamindar palace met with stiff resistance from the villagers who did not wish that an outsider take charge of “something which was naturally ours”.

The 17th century temples and zamindar palace at Budge Budge, home to a port, oil plants and jute mills, was built by Rani Rashmoni, a wealthy woman who also conceptualised Kolkata’s iconic Dakshineswar mandir of goddess Kali.

In as many as five visits to Kolkata earlier this year, Khanna's former wife and co-accused in the murder, Indrani Mukerjea, showed an interest in adopting the temples dedicated to Shiva, Kali and Radha Krishna. All she wanted, say residents, was a signboard that stated that she was responsible for the renovation and it was for Sheena Bora.

A senior official from Kolkata Police said Mukerjea’s attempt to adopt temples appeared like a case of atonement after committing a gruesome crime. “Maybe she wanted to wash her sins by adopting temples and offering prayers,” said Ashok Sinha, senior officer of the detective department of Kolkata Police. Interestingly, the practice is common among tribals in Tibet.

Using his political clout, Khanna also wished to try his hand at financing films, and routinely met with top film directors in Kolkata. “Many directors, over drinks, were tossing ideas to him because Khanna gave the impression he had cash to blow,” says Dipanjan Roy, a CCFC member.

Now that Khanna finds himself in a different ball-game, a director from Kolkata has already planned a film on the murder that rattled the nation. “We will start shooting soon,” said Agnidev Chattopadhyay in a telephonic interview. He was tossing between the idea of having either Rituparna Sengupta or Riya Sen to play Mukerjea, while Bollywood actor Aditya Pancholi was almost certain to essay the role of Mukerjea’s current husband, Peter. Sabyasachi Chakravarty would play former police commissioner Rakesh Maria while newcomer Saqib Iktaf would be seen essaying the role of Khanna.

The film, whose title has not been finalised, is slated for release next Diwali. “There will be enough fireworks, I promise,” he said.

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