Senior Congress leader and Maharashtra Industries Minister Narayan Rane on Monday evening blamed rival Shiv Sena for the abduction and murder of his cousin in the state's Sindhudurg district. The case has been handed over to the state Crime Investigation Department (CID), police said.
The body of the victim Anukh Naik, a third cousing of Rane, was handed over to his family for conducting the last rites, a district police officer said.
Addressing the media on Monday evening in his stronghold Kankavali, Rane reiterated his earlier charge about the involvement of Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut and Sindhudurg Shiv Sena chief Vaibhav Naik in the murder of Ankush Naik.
However, the Shiv Sena has dismissed the allegations, terming them as "Rane's usual political stunts". Not willing to take chances, the state police have beefed up security to ward off any trouble as elections are scheduled in the region this Thursday.
Naik was last seen on Friday evening near his hamlet Fanaswadi, close to Rane's ancestral Varavade village in Kankavali, district Superintendent of Police Ravindra Shisve told IANS.
His body was found near Nandgaon village, almost 40 km from Fanaswadi, on Sunday evening.
Though Rane accused the police of "not pursuing the matter vigorously", Shisve said that the police had launched a manhunt for the missing Naik and had even deployed a dog squad to trace him after bloodstains were found in the area.
Rane said that he suspected a "political conspiracy" hatched by his Shiv Sena rivals in order to check his growing support base in the Konkan region which goes to the polls April 23 and 30.
A former chief minister under the BJP-Shiv Sena government, Rane, 57, joined the Congress in 2005.
Shiv Sena leaders are bitter about Rane's switch, and are vying hard with him for political supremacy in Maharashtra's coastal Konkan region.
The murder has gained political significance since Rane's son, Nilesh is the Congress candidate from Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg constituency, challenging the veteran Shiv Sena MP Suresh Prabhu.
Rane has vowed that he would not be deterred by the murder of his kin and would continue his campaign in all areas.
Sindhudurg is some 300 km south of Mumbai.