INDIA: Bhujbal quits after TV office attack

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal on Tuesday handed over his resignation to chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde, owning moral responsibility for an attack on the office of a TV news channel earlier in the day

The Times of India
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

MUMBAI: Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal on Tuesday handed over his resignation to chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde, owning moral responsibility for an attack on the office of a TV news channel earlier in the day.

A group of workers belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) attacked the office of Alpha Marathi, which belongs to the Zee group, in Andheri. They were upset with the channel for airing a satire on Bhujbal’s alleged role in the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam. NCP president Sharad Pawar told the media on Tuesday night that Bhujbal had sought his permission to resign on moral grounds. He denied reports that the party had asked Bhujbal to resign from the post.

Shinde received the onepage resignation note from Bhujbal at 8.40 pm , as soon as he arrived at Varsha, the CM’s official residence, from Delhi . Shinde talked to Pawar on the phone before forwarding the resignation letter to Raj Bhavan for acceptance. Shinde said he would control the home department until the NCP suggested a new name. “Although Bhujbal had personally nothing to do with the attack on the news channel, he resigned since his sympathisers had attacked the media office,” he added.

The NCP is unlikely to decide on Bhujbal’s successor immediately. Pawar said the issue was not on the agenda of the two-day meeting of party leaders, beginning here on Wednesday. The opposition Shiv Sena-BJP alliance had been demanding Bhujbal’s resignation for his alleged involvement in the stamp scam, which rocked the winter session of the state legislature that ended in Nagpur last week.

On Tuesday afternoon, a 100-strong mob, shouting slogans in support of Bhujbal, barged in the Zee offices at Chintamani Plaza building on the busy Andheri-Kurla road, catching the staff unawares. According to Zee group spokesperson Ashish Kaul, the police arrived on the scene half-an-hour after the mob left. “The mob came at 12.15 pm , armed with iron rods and hockey sticks and attacked watchman R.D. Yadav. He is battling for life at a nearby hospital,” he said.

The activists first went up to the first floor, where the production units are housed. After ransacking it, they moved up to the third floor, where the programming offices are located. Windows, furniture and computers were smashed. “The mob did not spare women too. My colleague collapsed in front of me from injuries she received,” Kaul said. Kaul and Zee’s commercial director, B.L. Gautam, briefed the press, stating that the activists were clearly trying to demoralise the media by resorting to such undemocratic means for its consistent reportage of the fake stamp scam.

Kaul, however, said Monday’s Alpha Marathi programme was just an excuse and the real reason for the attack must be the recent expose by Zee News on the fake currency scam in Nasik, where fake notes were unearthed at a house next to Bhujbal’s bungalow. A similar attack at Zee’s Worli office was prevented after another mob there was pacified by Nitin Vaidya, business head of Alpha Marathi. Vaidya, who was on his way to Kolhapur, said he spoke over the phone to two activists, including Baban Kanavje.

Script for some more satire!

There is a strong Pune angle to the daily TV satire, Ghadlay, Bighadlay (It’s happening and it’s going all wrong) on the Alpha Marathi channel, which directly or indirectly led to the violent protest at Zee TV offices in Mumbai on Tuesday and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal’s resignation.

Reacting to the violence, Pune-based series co-writer and producer Shrirang Godbole said, “Our serial is like your newspaper political cartoon. Everyone is expected to take it sportingly.”

Will Alpha Marathi or Indian Magic Eye, the Punebased TV production house, be cowed down by Tuesday’s violence? “Hardly. Zee TV has pledged full support to the serial,” said Godbole. Even as the news of Bhujbal’s resignation trickled in, Rajesh Deshmukh, the actor who played Bhujbal in Monday’s controversial episode, was busy leaving Mumbai for Pune.

The reason: they were shooting Wednesday’s episode. The topic: Tuesday’s attack on the Zee TV offices and the deputy CM’s resignation. Apparently, daily satires are made of these. A police officer inspects the damaged office of Zee Television in Mumbai on Tuesday.