One man’s meat could be another’s biryanimumbai Updated: May 31, 2017 00:13 IST
NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal(HT File)
Several weeks ago, Chhagan Bhujbal wrote a very emotional three-page letter to me in his own handwriting. I was highly startled that he should seek to reach out to me among all the journalists in town. For, while I had an amiable relationship with the former deputy chief minister, I was never part of his inner circle. But I had then, writing in this column, taken the Congress apart and mentioned Bhujbal as the singular Congress man who had resurrected the party in the 1990s with his aggressive stand against the Shiv Sena, and said the party was in a similar stupour two decades later while no one like Bhujbal remained to bring it back to life again.
Bhujbal mentioned that piece to me in his letter as also the fact that he had been reading my book on Bal Thackeray in prison and was touched by the nice things I had said about him in it. But what touched me the most about the letter was his statement that he was being subjected to a media trial with reporters misrepresenting the facts against him almost all the time. In particular, he was very upset at the comments and reports about his hospitalisation late last year -- they made up all sorts of stories, he said, when, in fact, he did need the hospitalisation. “One does not have the health and stamina at 70 that one had at 40….’’ But who is to tell them otherwise, he asked plaintively.
He signed off saying he had already spoken more to me than he intended to -- I read and re-read the letter several times and though I shared it with select colleagues and close friends, I decided not to make a story out of what was essentially a lonely man reaching out to someone he perceived as fair and open to reasoned argument. Indeed, I sympathise with his predicament - as I have understood from his advisors and friends, he continues to be incarcerated without his case moving forward an inch, enough to break a less tough being, but Bhujbal continues to plod on - both in hope and desperation.
Ever since I received that letter, I have been trying to meet Bhujbal for an interview, either in Arthur Road jail or in the court but it has been impossible to get a look-in at either premise. So I wonder how all sorts of elements could indeed get to meet him in court and I also wonder about his and his nephew’s meat and alcohol binges in prison. I know as a matter of fact that Bhujbal has been permitted less than one kilogram – 900 grams, in fact – of food in a day and the courts have allowed his family to provide him with home-cooked meals. How much mutton and chicken fits into the 900 grams, I wonder - though, I am told, with the sedentary life he has in jail, and at his age, he avoids eating anything that is not shudh shakahari. I guess the story of this meat for Bhujbal is quite as true as the one floated about the jail authorities providing Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab with mutton biryani in the same jail -- months after Kasab’s hanging, public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam admitted he had made up that lie to divert the media’s attention away from some bleeding hearts who were agitating for a fair deal to Kasab.
Then, again, I wanted to laugh out loud when I heard that Sameer Bhujbal was being served up coconut water spiked with vodka in prison – that, in case one did not know, is a Malibu Paradise and, far from such exotic cocktails, my experience of reporting on jails (I had visited several jails across the state and spent time talking to authorities and prisoners for a series of stories) is that while prisoners are allowed home-cooked food, not one drop of liquid - not even water - is allowed in from outside, let alone the smuggling in of alcohol and fruit juices.
Bhujbal is an undertrial, not a convict and he is in for a financial crime, not murder or terrorism. He was the home minister of Maharashtra and could have used his considerable networking to stay out of trouble. But he did not run away from trial as did Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya, whose crimes of financial irregularities are far more serious. But now, like these two high-fliers in London, he too seems to be living a fantas(y)tically king-sized life in prison!