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|January 18, 1999||
Sena men ransack BCCI office, damage Prudential Cup
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
"You want India and Pakistan to play cricket?" the leader of a group of visitors at the south Bombay headquarters of the Board of Control for Cricket in India on Monday afternoon asked.
Taken aback, Sharad Diwadkar, executive secretary of the BCCI, replied: "Yes."
A tight slap landed on his face as some 70 men pushed past into the unguarded office at the Brabourne Stadium and ransacked it.
According to an eyewitness, the mob was waving saffron flags and armed with hockey sticks and stumps. They damaged furniture, a glass panel, and fax machines. Some even pulled out telephone wires.
A BCCI employee said the leader of the gang introduced himself as party legislator Shrikant Sarmalkar. The men were shouting slogans to the effect that "the country does not need unpatriotic people", "we will die for our leader Thackeray", and "Pakistan has the blood of Kashmiri Hindus on their hands".
In the frenzy, several trophies won by the Indians over the years, including the historic Prudential World Cup of 1983, were damaged.
The attack was over in less than 10 minutes, and the attackers left before the police arrived.
The five employees in the office, including two lady typists, were terrified as the vandals went about smashing things. Before leaving, Sarmalkar congratulated his men and threatened the BCCI personnel that no security could stop them from preventing the Pakistanis' tour or attacking the office again. Some of the men also made lewd comments about the typists.
The attackers appeared to be well informed about the lax security at the office despite the storm brewing over the tour for a long time. They also seemed to have known of BCCI secretary J Y Lele's arrival from Baroda to give finishing touches to the tour programme. Lele, however, escaped through a side door.
Soon after the incident, top BCCI officials went into a huddle with president Raj Singh Dungarpur at a secret venue. The office was closed immediately and will not be reopened till full security is provided.
An authoritative source connected with the Sena confirmed that Sarmalkar, member of the legislative assembly from Bandra in north-west Bombay, led the attackers.
A call to Sarmalkar's residence, however, evoked the response that he had gone to the photo-exhibition of Bal Thackeray's son and Sena leader Uddhav at the Jehangir Art Gallery, also in south Bombay.
Police too denied that the Sena was involved in the attack. Speaking to Rediff On The NeT, Joint Commissioner of Police (law and order) P S Pasricha said, "Our men reached the spot immediately, but the assailants had escaped by then."
Defending the lack of protection for the BCCI office, Pasricha said, "Their [the anti-tour protestors'] target was never Bombay. It was Madras and Delhi. Moreover, the cricket players are not in Bombay but in New Zealand. So we did not foresee this."
The Sena was tight-lipped and refused to accept responsibility for the attack. In a statement, Uddhav Thackeray said, "The police are stating that they themselves don't know who the attackers were. So it is wrong to say that Shiv Sainiks were involved. I feel there is somebody else's hand and the Sena is being dragged in unnecessarily."
But Sena deputy leader Vijay Loke said his party men would definitely disrupt the India-Pakistan Test matches on Bal Thackeray's instructions. "We will also boycott all the companies that associate with the Pakistanis."
Asked about a report that Sena men are planning to release snakes in the stadium during the match to create terror and chaos, Loke said, "That was mentioned by the local Shiv Sena leaders of Madras and Delhi. But we will follow Balasaheb's instructions to disrupt the match in every possible way."
In New Delhi, Pakistan's High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said the incident was unfortunate but the tour would proceed as scheduled.
Late in the evening, Dungarpur also told Rediff On The NeT that the tour "is very much on".
The board president said he had spoken to the Pakistanis. "They know of the incident, but they are coming."
He said what had happened was "not cricket" and was "very sad".
But he said the police forces of all the state governments as well as the Centre have promised protection to all the cricketers, both Indians and Pakistanis.
Ironically, the attack took place when Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani was in Bombay to inaugurate two new bridges. Asked about the incident, Advani pleaded ignorance and said he could comment on it only after getting the full details. He returned to New Delhi by the late-evening flight.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi too used the same plea. Joshi, who is also president of the Bombay Cricket Association and a vice-president of the BCCI, said, "I will comment only tomorrow after knowing the pros and cons of the incident."
Asked if he would resign from his post in the BCCI, Joshi said: "There is nothing big about it. If it is needed I will resign."
Asked to comment on Maharashtra Sports Minister Pratap Jadhav's warning to the Indian cricketers "to boycott the matches or face the consequences", Joshi said he should not have said such a thing without consulting the party leadership.
Former Sena member Chhagan Bhujbal, Joshi's long-time rival and now leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, termed the attack "sad and condemnable" and called for the chief minister's resignation.
Bhujbal, who visited the BCCI office in the evening, said Joshi, as a vice-president of the board, should either come out on the streets in support of the Sena vandals or ensure the protection of the people opposed to such acts.
He said it was a shame that an MLA of the ruling party was leading the attack in daylight. That the incident took place even as Advani was visiting the city shows the Sena's arrogance and is a lesson to the BJP, the party's ally at the Centre as well as in the state, he said.
With reports from UNI
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