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Congress minister withdraws case against Bal Thackeray

Tue, 01 Jan 2008 IANS

Mumbai, Oct 3 (IANS) Maharashtra Public Works Department Minister Chhagan Bhujbal created a political flutter Friday when he abruptly withdrew an 11-year-old private defamation complaint against Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and the latter's newspaper Saamna.


Bhujbal, a former protege-turned-bete noire of Thackeray who left the Sena to join the Congress and subsequently the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), had slapped a criminal case July 23, 1997 against one Rajendra Agarwal, who had filed an affidavit alleging that Bhujbal was responsible for defiling a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai's north-east suburb.



Riots had erupted in the predominantly Dalit area after the incident and the subsequent police firing led to 10 deaths July 11, 1997.



Bhujbal had also filed private defamation complaints against the newspaper's editor (Thackeray), executive editor and printer/publisher in a Nashik court for publishing a report in Saamna, based on the (Agarwal's) affidavit, a few days later, his lawyer Mangesh Bansod told IANS.



Later, the defamation case was transferred to a Mumbai court.



Following a request from the newspaper's executive editor, Sanjay Raut, a parliamentarian, and the printer/publisher Subhash Desai, Bhujbal decided to drop the proceedings in view of Thackeray's age and ill health, an aide said.



Raut and Desai wrote to Bhujbal Aug 5 this year, urging him to withdraw the case in view of the Sena leader's advanced age and unsound health - to which the minister acceded.



When Bhujbal completed the case withdrawal formalities Friday afternoon at the Bandra Metropolitan Court, there was a bigger surprise in store - he came out along with Sena executive president Udhav Thackeray.



Bhujbal told mediapersons that the trial court had found Agarwal guilty of filing a false affidavit and sentenced him to three months' imprisonment.



Since the Sessions Court reversed the sentence, Bhujbal challenged it in the Bombay High Court, where the matter is pending and will continue, said Bansod.



The developments, coming in the wake of another former Shiv Sena leader and present Congress Revenue Minister Narayan Rane's meeting with Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, has kicked off speculations in political circles about Bhujbal's future moves.



However, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, speaking at a function Friday evening, dismissed all speculations and declared that 'Bhujbal is very much with the NCP'.


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