For Love or Money? In Sheena Bora Murder Case, Latter Now In Focus

For Love or Money? In Sheena Bora Murder Case, Latter Now In Focus

Sheena Bora was allegedly murdered by her mother Indrani Mukerjea in 2012.

Mumbai:  It is evidence of just how startling the Sheena Bora case is when the disclosure that her sister was actually her mother is not necessarily the biggest disruptor on the block.

Since Monday night, when Indrani Mukerjea was arrested for Ms Bora's killing, the underside of their relationship has played out in an unstoppable loop of disclosures. The police, which leaned first towards the premise that Ms Bora had been murdered because of a love affair, is now exhuming a possible financial conflict as the motive for the 24-year-old being strangled in a car, allegedly by her mother, a stepfather, and a driver, all of whom have denied any wrongdoing.

Three years ago and well into what was from all accounts a happy third marriage, Ms Mukerjea inhabited a mansion named "Marlow" in Mumbai's Worli with husband Peter Mukerjea. They had met in 2002, when he was the top boss of the Star TV Group in India and she was running a head-hunting consultancy. In 2007, they co-founded the INX Media Group with Ms Mukerjea as Group CEO.

Then, two years later, they exited the broadcasting group they had promoted. Unsubtle talk of equally unsubtle embezzlement trailed their departure, but if there were a slide in prestige, the Mukerjea as appeared unscathed, dividing their time between Mumbai and the United Kingdom.

Ravina Raj Kohli was the chief of Star News when Mr Mukerjea was Star CEO. Describing Ms Mukerjea, who she says she knows well "from the Star years", Ms Kohli told NTDV, "I have known how ambitious she was and I know how manipulative she could have been. I also know how vulnerable she could have been. I believe it (the murder) is a huge cover up on the part of a woman who got into a situation beyond her control... Where she was trying to achieve and become something or someone she could never become" - in Ms Kohli's words, "a wannabe media tycoon".

By now, Ms Mukerjea had brought Sheena Bora to live with her in Mumbai. Ms Bora was her sister, she said to friends and family, including, allegedly, her husband. It's unclear if Ms Bora, brought up simply by doting grandparents with limited resources, struggled to align herself  to an iteration of Mumbai that is the preserve of the rich - "cars and world trips" had been bestowed upon her by Ms Mukerjea who had somewhat abruptly re-entered Ms Bora's life in her teens, according to childhood friend Arnab Sikdar. In her new luxe life, Ms Bora studied at St Xavier's College then got a job. She also fell in love with Rahul Mukerjea, one of two sons from an earlier marriage of Peter Mukerjea.

Despite the deep and articulated disapproval of their parents, Rahul Mukerjea and Ms Bora deepened their bond over two years and began living together. In the early phase of its inquiry, the police, in a series of leaks, let it be known that it was looking at whether Ms Mukerjea killed her daughter to terminate a relationship that showed no signs of dissembling.

But in the last 48 hours, it says it has shifted focus to whether Ms Bora had been enrolled among a league of proxy firms that allegedly served as a parking lot for the Mukerjeas' money from the INX split. An anonymous phone call three months ago told the police that Ms Bora, believed to be in the US, had been killed by Ms Mukerjea. The informer, police sources say, was linked to the financial morass, and was seeking revenge.   

Ms Kohli told NDTV, "When the INX business shut down and changed hands, there was a lot of scandal related to that and it was deemed to be a miserable failure, etc. I was aware of certain people who had business dealings with INX and they had mentioned to me... And this is all conjecture... I had heard there were benami companies. I had heard there were kickbacks going into those companies."

She added, "There is a lot of money involved somewhere. I think it's a massive cover up and I think all of them were involved. I think there was a lot of 'shut-up' money involved all these years, and maybe that shut-up money is no longer there, so people have no longer shut up."

Ms Mukerjea, on April 24, 2012, phoned Ms Bora, summoning her to Linking Road in Bandra. Rahul Mukerjea dropped his girlfriend there. According to the police, Ms Mukerjea, her second husband Sanjeev Khanna, and her driver ambushed the young woman, yanked her into the car, knocked her out with sedatives and then strangled her. The police has not commented on Mr Khanna's motive; his lawyer has said the businessman from Kolkata was in Mumbai on the day that Ms Bora was killed, but had travelled there to meet Vidhie, the daughter he shares with Ms Mukerjea, who lived with her.

Ms Mukerjea, has, according to the police, offered contradictory accounts of what happened to Ms Bora. From the wreckage of a young woman's gruesome death, more contorted relationships of interdependence and connivance are likely to emerge with Ms Mukerjea as the fulcrum. "I met her at a time when I don't even think she realized how ambitious she was... she hid her past from her husband... she hid her past from everybody," said Ms Kohli.

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