The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party rallies round Bhujbal

Mumbai, Dec. 24: Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal today asserted that he had nothing to do with the fake stamp paper scam.

“I am ready to slug it out and I am a fighter,” said Bhujbal, who yesterday resigned as Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister over an attack on a television channel’s office here.

The NCP rallied around its beleaguered leader. Far from isolating Bhujbal for his alleged role in the scam, the rank and file — at least in public —said, in their eyes, he will remain innocent till proved guilty.

The party has refused to hold Bhujbal responsible “in any way” for the scam and has instead demanded an inquiry into the attack on the office of Zee Television Network by a group of men who claimed to be NCP supporters. The office was ransacked for showing a programme critical of Bhujbal.

“We suspect foul play as our activists would never smash the portrait of Sharad Pawar,” party spokesman Praful Patel said. Bhujbal, he added, would not only remain a respected leader of the party but “would also be there to fulfil all his commitments to the NCP”.

Asked if the attack was “engineered” to facilitate Bhujbal’s honourable exit in the face of allegations of involvement in the scam, Patel shot back: “The special investigation team is doing its job and they should be the one to say if Bhujbal is guilty on any account. Wild allegations should not be flung at an individual like this.”

While party chief Pawar said Bhujbal’s resignation had nothing to do with the scandal, Patel quipped that the former deputy chief minister would emerge clean and help the party in the Assembly elections next year.

The NCP is yet to decide on a successor to Bhujbal, who wields significant clout among Other Backward Classes as he belongs to the Mali community. Senior leaders said a successor will be named “shortly”.

However, apart from the show of unity, it was obvious that Bhujbal is facing a lot of criticism from within his party. Bhujbal — who had no visitors from the NCP while he was in hospital recently and has had to defend himself at the just-concluded Assembly session at Nagpur because his party colleagues chose to sit quietly — is being increasingly perceived as a liability. His name has also come up in the money-for-postings scandal that hit the police department recently.

Opposition leaders kept up their attack on Bhujbal. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said Bhujbal had enacted a “huge drama” of resigning over the Zee incident and added that the special investigation team should now question him.

Opposition leader in the Assembly Narayan Rane went a step further. He demanded that Bhujbal be arrested “like the others involved in the scam” and charged under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

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