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Bhujbal joins the battle

Mumbai, Feb. 28: Chhagan Bhujbal ko gussa kyon aata hai'

Questions about his involvement in the multi-crore stamp paper scam touched a raw nerve in the former Maharashtra deputy chief minister today. A livid Bhujbal threatened to take off his slippers and hit anyone who dared to ask if he had received money from scam mastermind Abdul Karim Telgi.

What started off as an innocuous news conference was transformed when the beleaguered Nationalist Congress Party member was asked what he would say if the special investigation team probing the scam asked about the alleged transfer of money from Telgi to the Bhujbals.

Agar kisi ne aisa sawal kiya, to mein abhi chappal nikaloonga (If I’m asked such questions I will hit them with my slippers),” Bhujbal thundered. He said his patience was at an end and should not be tested any more.

The NCP leader has been in the dock since Telgi said during narco-analysis and brain finger-mapping tests that he had paid large sums of money to “Bhujbal’’. The investigation team is trying to establish if Telgi meant Chhagan or his nephew Sameer, thought to have been the link between the politician and the mastermind.

Bhujbal, who was also the home minister when the Telgi kickback rumours began doing the rounds, said the persistent questions were meant to sully his reputation. He said the insinuations were part of a well-planned design to hit him politically.

“What will Telgi pay me'” asked Bhujbal. “What will he pay me when it was I who destroyed his network and exposed the scam' Maine toh uska khana bandh kar diya tha (I had cut off his lifeline).’’ The NCP leader said it was the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, which was in power when the scam came to light, that had shielded Telgi.

Bhujbal, perhaps the first home minister who is to be quizzed on his suspected underworld links, was to be questioned on Thursday, but put off the interrogation till March 2. The NCP leader has said he might call for another postponement “after consultation with the (investigating) team” since Tuesday happens to be Muharram.

His nephew was questioned by the team early this morning for the third time. Sameer was quizzed for three hours, amid reports that he will be called in for questioning again.

Known in political circles as Bhujbal’s right-hand man, Sameer has been accused in the past of having “engineered” police transfers and postings that helped the scam to flourish and of helping Telgi get in touch with politicians. He is alleged to have got some “difficult and unwanted” police officers investigating the Telgi case transferred using his police and secretariat connections.

Sameer is also in the eye of a storm for his “closeness” to Jalgaon-based oil baron Antim Totla, who was allegedly on Telgi’s payroll.

After being questioned at the investigating team’s Worli office, Sameer said he was “fully cooperating’’ with police and had answered all the questions put to him. He would not say what he had been asked.

There have been allegations that Telgi would pass on his instructions to transfer “difficult” police officers to Totla, who would then get his brother-in-law Prakash Jhakede to relay the request to Bhujbal’s home ministry. Also involved in the cash-for-transfers scam is Totla’s former business partner Manoj Mehta.

Mehta and Jhakede are in police custody; Totla was recently subjected to lie-detector and narco-analysis tests in Ahmedabad. Sources say Sameer was quizzed after being named by Totla.

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