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Mayor, lawyer in club fight

Chandigarh, June 21: A popular local club here has banned the mayor and an advocate from entering its premises after they were allegedly involved in a brawl while playing cards on Wednesday night.

The decision to keep Subhash Chawla and Satbir Singh Gurpuria out was taken at an emergency meeting of Chandigarh Club in which card room members are special invitees. The ban is perhaps the first of its kind in the country.

“We have decided that whatever happened was on the spur of the moment. But as we have to maintain some standard of discipline, Chawla and Gurpuria cannot enter the club till further orders,” a club official said.

The brawl occurred late on Wednesday night. Gurpuria alleged that Chawla, also playing cards, owed him Rs 2,100. “I asked him to repay the money and also the Rs 3,000 he had borrowed earlier,” the advocate said.

Gurpuria said instead of returning the money, Chawla made vulgar remarks and threatened him. He said the mayor, along with his security officer and some councillors, assaulted him later. Chairs and tables were flung and blows traded liberally.

The fracas continued for nearly half-an-hour till club officials and waiters interfered and brought the situation under control. Both sides were taken to the police station where a “compromise” was reached.

Chawla denies using vulgar language. “It was he (Gurpuria) who began the expletives,” the mayor said. “I was not playing cards with him. The moment I entered the room he started asking for some money which he believes I owe him and began making vulgar remarks.” Chawla added that Gurpuria was drunk and started the fight.

The fracas, which could cost the mayor his post, has brought to light the illegal gambling that goes on in the air-conditioned card rooms of city clubs. According to Section 3 of the Gambling Act, gambling inside an enclosure, which is not a public place, is illegal. Police can issue summons or raid places where people are gambling.

Gurpuria agrees gambling is rampant in city clubs. “The stakes are very high at times, especially during Diwali. The amount varies according to the capacity of the players,” he said.

Chandigarh Club president Ravinder Chopra denied that members gambled in the card room. “No money is put on stake,” he said.

But a club official confessed that gambling was not new here. “Everybody knows who gambles and who doesn’t. The wives of senior Central, Punjab and Haryana government officials are regularly seen in the card rooms. When they come out their faces reveal how they have fared. Heated arguments take place every day,” the official said.

The issue has taken a political turn with the BJP demanding Chawla’s resignation. They accused the mayor of indulging in “a drunken brawl” and bringing disrepute to his office. Defending himself, the mayor said: “I would not like to reveal what those who have issued the statement do in the club and what members of their families do.” Chawla, who belongs to the Congress, has briefed senior party leaders in Delhi.

Chandigarh Congress chief B.B. Bahl said an inquiry would be conducted and a report sent to the party general secretary.

Mohsina Kidwai.

The incident has come in handy for Chawla’s detractors in the party. Many have asked the Union Territory administrator and Punjab Governor, Justice (retd) .P. Verma, to book the club management for illegally allowing gambling on its premises.

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