Fear stalks Radio Club

Published: Dec 16, 2011, 08:28 IST | Hemal Ashar |

Attack on managing committee member raises tempers; members urge internal probe

Attack on managing committee member raises tempers; members urge internal probe

It is one of South Mumbai, or SoBo's most elite clubs, with an enviable location. Its perimeter kisses the Arabian Sea and as the waves break against the walls, you can for a moment imagine that you are miles away from the hurly burly of the city. 

Taking a hit: Manu Bhavnani is convalescing at his Colaba home. The
diabetic has been advised bed rest

Right now though, the Bombay Presidency Radio Club, or just Radio Club as it is more commonly called, near the Taj Mahal hotel at Colaba, is gripped by fear and friction following an attack on current club committee member Manu Bhavnani.

An unknown assailant attacked Colaba resident, Bhavnani, on Wednesday, December 7, two days before the club was scheduled to hold its annual elections. The attacker hit him on his right leg just below the knee and took a swipe on the left leg before escaping on a motorbike. Thankfully, Bhavnani has not broken any bones as a result of the attack, but his mobility has been severely hampered. He has been advised rest by his doctor till next week. But more than the physical debilitation, the incident has shaken him up mentally.

Spot on: The location where Manu Bhavnani was attacked on the
footpath outside the Sea Palace hotel in Colaba. Pics/Shadab Khan

Walk goes awry
Says Bhavnani from his home at Zoher Mansion building in Colaba, "On the evening of December 7, I was at the Radio Club. At approximately 7 pm, I decided to go for a walk along the Gateway of India seafront.  My friend Deepak Makhijani accompanied me. I was walking opposite the sea front. I had barely gone a few metres from the club and my friend Deepak was behind me, talking on his mobile phone, when I suddenly felt something hit me on my right leg, near the knee. It happened very quickly. I felt three more blows, and I collapsed on the ground on my right knee. Then the attacker hit me quickly on the left leg. By now, cars had stopped and people were looking. My friend Deepak started running towards me, but the attacker (I could not catch a glimpse of his face) jumped on to a motorbike waiting nearby and sped away, riding pillion."

Speaking up: Mirchandani (l) and Anjaria at the club

Makhijani said, "I did not see the assailant. It was a pre-planned attack, designed to plant fear in our minds." Bhavnani thinks he was hit with a heavy stick and "the next target would have been my face."

However, Rehman Abdul Shaikh, a car mechanic from Colaba who was taking a car on a test drive and happened to  witness the attack, disagrees. "He was hit with a golf club. I saw the instrument, and it was not a stick," he said.

CLUB MATTERS: Manu's wife Preeti Bhavnani

Club connection
Bhavnani was rushed to Colaba police station, "After which I was sent to St George Hospital. We have to go to the government hospital, as stipulated by the police. The wound was dressed and I went back to the police station to lodge a full complaint."

When asked why he thought the attack had a connection to his involvement with the Radio Club, Bhavnani said, "I have no dispute -- familial or property-related. I think it is definitely linked to my status as a member of the managing committee of the Radio Club. Since I am one of the most popular committee members, I was targetted. I poll the highest votes in the elections. The 'opposition' wants to defeat this committee, but could not even cobble together enough candidates to stand against the current managing committee, comprising 15 members."

Paperwork: A copy of the police complaints and the doctor's report

He added, "My doctor has advised me rest for the wound to heal. Add to that, I am diabetic and suffer from hypertension. This complicates matters." Bhavnani's family doctor, Dr Dinesh Toprani said, "I have advised him rest and he will make a full recovery, soon." 

What gives Bhavnani's theory more credence is the fact that, he has been targetted in the past as well. "The incident took place four-five years ago. Letters were circulated in the club, which tried to sully my image and showed me in poor  light." His wife, Preeti, recalled, "These were anonymous hate letters in which the letter writer claimed that I was not his lawfully wedded wife. It also claimed that his daughter was not his legitimate offspring, as she had different features."

This attack though has put a dangerous spin on the acrimony. Preeti added, "My husband now tells me not to take a walk early morning in that area. But I have been doing that for years. I don't want to stop now. What can we do? We might change our routine for a day or two, but life has to go on."

Colaba landmark: The club is one of the most elite in the city

Bhavnani added, "I know this is a cowardly attack. Earlier, I would not consider resigning from the club. This time, however, I am having second thoughts about working for the club. It is the love of members and their support that keeps me going. My Facebook profile is full of support for me. Members have also been visiting the police station urging the cops to find out about the attackers."

Jungle Raj
Kamlesh Anjaria, general manager of the club says, "I have no doubt that this is the most shameful incident in the history of the club. This club started in 1939 and though like every institution it's had its share of controversies, this is the first time that things have sunk to this depth. Even at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on December 9, angry members were asking us continually about what is being done about the Manu Bhavnani matter. Though the matter is being investigated by the police, we were told to conduct an internal inquiry."

Swank: Most of the club's patrons hail from the upper crust of the society

Meanwhile, a disturbed Prakash Mirchandani, joint honorary secretary of the Radio Club thundered angrily, "This is not jungle raj. We live in a civilised society. Without a doubt, the attack has a link to the Radio Club elections. It happened two days before the elections and was a ploy to bring down the morale of our current managing committee. They (the opposition) attacked the most popular person of the Radio Team, as we are called. Bhavnani is our leader in a sense. It was done with one aim -- once you attack him, then we all collapse like a pack of cards."

Mirchandani also blamed  rivalry and jealousy, saying there are people who simply want to pull the committee down instead of working for the club.

He admitted that they have made mistakes but said, "to err is human," claiming that the "opposition is frustrated because it cannot get together 15 persons to rival us."

Mirchandani signed off, "We are concerned and fearful about the safety of other committee members as well. Many of us live within walking distance of the club."

The Radio Club has a membership base of about 7,800.

Face of Clubs 
Once the bastion of genteel gatherings and exclusivity, the rampant bickering in several South Mumbai clubs could now put parliament shoving and pushing to shame.

The Cricket Club of India (CCI) is now a little less tumultuous than it was earlier. The club has seen huge controversy with Kamaljeet Bonny Rajpal, former secretary and chief executive officer (CEO) shooting himself in the mouth after being involved in a court case following an FIR filed against him by a female  member of the club, alleging that he sent her 'sexually explicit' material. Previously, the club had seen bitter wrangling about the late Raj Singh Dungarpur and his presidency. The fracas had turned so bitter that the media eagerly followed it and Dungarpur had even been barred from entering the club for a couple of days. In a day marked with high drama, Dungarpur had returned to the club in an open car, followed by motorbikes. He was was garlanded and anointed, as the CCI staff shouted, 'CCI ka Raja kaun? Rajbhai.'

Haji Ali's National Sports Club of India (NSCI) had a belated election a couple of years ago, when pushing and shoving was seen on the dais. NSCI has seen bitter battles, finger pointing, name-calling and letters being circulated to and fro about the club. All the controversy centred around a building next to the club called Pride of Asia. The structure, talk had it, was part of a Rs 100-crore scam. and while the figure may not be substantiated, work on the Pride of Asia was delayed substantially because of litigation over costs of the project.

There was even a special administrator appointed by the court to look into the matter. He was Delhi-based former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, B P Singh, who used to commute to the city to oversee club operations.

The swish Willingdon Club at Haji Ali (near the RTO, opposite the racecourse) was in the news for rejecting a membership of racing professional and former top jockey, Pesi Shroff.  

The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) racing's apex body, with its headquarters at Mahalaxmi has been in the eye of a storm on several occasions. From a controversial catering tender, which saw the restaurant Gallops getting it, after heavy bidding by the city's top Food & Hospitality establishments to elections where egos were crushed and boosted, the RWITC boardroom has been a hotbed of big names and bigger battles. One fracas between Vijaypat Singhania and Cyrus Poonawalla is particularly memorable.

Some years ago, Singhania had written a letter to the then state Finance Minister Jayant Patil to shut down racing at the racecourse. The racecourse, according to Singhania, can be turned into a mini-Singapore with safaris and the tallest tower.

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, then chairman of RWITC, had stated that Singhania had breached the trust of all the members who voted him into the committee. They believed he would do well for the club.

Instead, he has gone behind their backs and written this letter, he had said, adding that the only aim of this letter was to try and embarrass him. 

>> Most South Mumbai club memberships hover around Rs 25 lakh, and that is a very conservative estimate.
>> Even though you have the money, you may not be able to get a membership as several clubs have closed doors to outsiders.
>> Elections to the club committee are being fought with increasing ferocity, one indicator of just how coveted these kursis have become.
>> Some clubs have a waiting period for as long as 20 years.
>> Ego battles take place for committee seats as those on the committee have the power to get people into the club or vote them out -- 'blackball' them, in club lingo.
>> Several South Mumbai clubs carry a definite snob value to them -- being a member is a social status symbol. It even gives you an added edge in the marriage market. 

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