Thane: Suresh alias Pappu Kalani, a liquor baron and former gang boss turned five-time legislator from Maharashtra’s Ulhasnagar, was on Tuesday sentenced to life in prison along with three others by a court here in a 23-year-old murder case rooted in political and business rivalry.

Kalani, 62, was found guilty on Friday by Additional Sessions Judge Rajeshwari Bapat-Sarkar of Kalyan court for hatching a criminal conspiracy with three others in the murder of builder Ghanshyam Bhatija February 27, 1990.

Two other co-accused in the same case were acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence.

While Kalani was found guilty and sentenced for conspiracy to murder (under Indian Penal Code Sec 120B), his three associates — Mohammad Ashrat Shaikh, Baba Gabriel and Bacchi Pandey — were held guilty of committing murder under IPC Sec 320, besides violation of the Arms Act.

Narendra Ramsinghani and Richard Fernandes were acquitted.

Bhatija was found murdered near Pinto Resorts in Ulhasnagar, a Sindhi-dominated township in Thane district in February 1990 when the Kalani family held sway there.

Nearly a decade later, the sole witness to the murder case, Inder Bhatija — the younger brother of the slain Ghanshyam — was also shot dead April 27, 1999, despite having police security.

Later, police filed charges naming Kalani, Shaikh, Gabriel, Pandey, Ramsinghani and Fernandes as the prime accused.

Special Public Prosecutor Vikas Patil had sought death penalty for the four, saying Kalani had a long criminal record with over two dozen murder cases against him.

Patil also argued that Bhatija’s murder was very well-planned, and that the same group was also accused in the murder of Inder Bhatija who was gunned down in 1999.

The murder had its roots in 1990 when Kalani was contesting the Ulhasnagar assembly seat as a Congress nominee.

Local realty developers, the Bhatija brothers were supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Sheetaldas Harchandani.

On polling day, February 27, 1990, the Bhatija duo caught some of Kalani’s supporters rigging the vote.

Enraged, Kalani threatened the duo and allegedly ordered their killing later that evening.

While Ghanshyam was shot dead, Inder managed to escape.

However, almost 10 years later, Inder, a witness to his brother’s killing, was also gunned down.

Though charged initially under the dreaded Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act, the charges under TADA were dropped in 2001 and the case transferred to a regular court in Kalyan.

Shortly after the punishment was announced Tuesday, the third Bhatija brother Kamal said he was happy that though the case took so long, their family got justice.