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NCP activists attack Zee TV office; Bhujbal resigns

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

MUMBAI Dec. 23. Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister, Chagan Bhujbal, today resigned owning moral responsibility for the attack on the offices of Zee Television by Nationalist Congress Party workers, even as the network said that for weeks, "people claiming to be close to Mr. Bhujbal had been threatening" them. Mr. Bhujbal held the Home portfolio.

The resignation was sent to the Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and he has accepted it.

Talking to , Mr. Shinde said that "I will not tolerate any attack on the media. People involved will be dealt with." He said "this resignation follows Mr. Bhujbal owning moral responsibility for the attack on the Zee TV office. This has nothing to do with the Telgi scam."

Sharad Pawar, NCP chief, said the Mumbai Police Commissioner, P. S. Pasricha, had told him that one of those arrested for involvement in the attack was an NCP worker. That sealed Mr. Bhujbal's fate and "I accepted his resignation," he told correspondents.

Mr. Bhujbal has for long been under the scanner of the Opposition which has been alleging that he has been soft on the prime accused in the stamp paper scandal, Abdul Karim Telgi, and has been demanding his resignation — at one time even his arrest — but he had weathered it. In the meanwhile, he was getting increasingly isolated within the party. Consultations have already begun to find a successor.

The Zee TV's Marathi regional channel, Alpha Marathi, had yesterday telecast a lampoon of Mr. Bhujbal, the Opposition and Telgi and that roused the ire of the NCP cadres. Zee said that the trouble had started weeks ago after one of its reporters entered a building next to Mr. Bhujbal's house in Nashik where huge stocks of postal stamps and other papers were stored.

The Zee said that it had been reporting "facts as they come out" on the issue of Mr. Bhujbal's "presumed involvement" in the Telgi stamp paper scandal. When the reporters did not succumb to their threats, they resorted to violent and undemocratic means. Their employees had to run from the mob "to hide to save their lives." Nine persons have been arrested. Three of its employees have been hospitalised.

Mr. Bhujbal said today that he had always been against strong-arm tactics and had opposed and criticised attacks on the media. "I have opposed the Shiv Sena's ways" and "I condemn the attack on the Zee TV offices. If my party workers are involved, then they will be dealt with severely." Mr. Pawar too pointed out that the NCP was firm that the media should not be touched.

Just two days ago Mr. Pawar had spoken out against "false accusations of the Opposition" and it was thought that the issue of Mr. Bhujbal having to leave the Government following attacks by the Opposition was now closed. His resignation was not even on the agenda of the party which has a two-day meeting here from tomorrow.

But the Opposition is all set to make an issue of Mr. Bhujbal's resignation by claiming that it had got its first political scalp in the wake of the Telgi scam in fake stamp papers. The Leader of the Opposition, Narayan Rane of the Shiv Sena, said he favoured freedom of the press and condemned the attack on the Zee offices. Mr. Rane was silent on the spate of attacks on media institutions by the Sena in the past.

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