The idea of setting up a press
club in Mumbai emerged in 1968. Journalists were the lowest-paid white-collar
employees in those days, and they had to fight every inch of the way to
get thier due. During the course of this struggle, they found that even
in smaller cities such as Lucknow, Bhopal and Cochin, journalist unions
had press clubs and their own buildings. They decided that they should
have one in Bombay.
A joint delegation of the Bombay Union of Journalists (BUJ) and the Mumbai
Marathi Patrakar Sangh (MMPS) approached V. P. Naik, the then chief minister
of Maharashtra. While the BUJ delegation was headed by the organisation's
president, the late K. D. Umrigar, and Madhu Shetye, its general secretary,
the Sangh team was led by K. P. Samak, its president.
These journalists made several attempts to get a place for the press club,
and they were joined in their efforts by senior journalists such as Shamrao
Deshpande, who was later elected president of the BUJ, D. B. Khade, V.
K. Naik, the late S. K. Agashe and S. B. Kolpe, who went on to become
the president of the IFWJ.
Chief minister Naik was a forward-looking person and he knew journalists
from close quarters. He told a group of journalists once that he had been
much impressed when he visited the Press Club of Delhi, and that he would
help to secure a similar facility for journalists in Mumbai. S. K. Wankhede,
the then finance minister of Maharashtra, was another politician who felt
that city journalists ought to have a place they could call their own.
He too offered us a helping hand
Naik agreed to allot one place to both the press club and the MMPS, not
knowing that the two organisations were different entities. He allotted
the 'Glass House' premises to us, the BUJ representatives. When the MMPS's
Samak asked for a separate place for his organisation, the chief minister
allotted the adjoining barrack (where the present MMPS building stands)
to the Sangh.
There is some more background to this story. The formation of the state
of Maharashtra in 1960 had increased the importance of Marathi-knowing
journalists working in English-language media. Marathi had become the
administrative language in the state assembly and at Mantralaya, and media
managements preferred posting Marathi-knowing journalists to cover events
There were many journalists who contributed their mite in getting the
Bombay Press Club started. Besides those mentioned earlier, there was
A. P. Hudlikar, Hillary Lobo, V. T. Deshpande, K. S. Raman, Chandu Medhekar
and V. Venkatesan.
There were other organisations - such as the Press Guild and the Mantralaya
Correspondents Association - which wanted the government to help them
get their own places, but the chief minister did not favour them. He wanted
the press club allotment to be made to a representative organisation of
journalists, and he wanted it to be a place where journalists, irrespective
of their language, religious persuasion or political affiliations, could
meet, mingle and relax.
In 1981 chief minister A. R. Antulay reduced the rent of the Press Club's
premises to a token rupee. He also ordered the construction of an adjoining
structure (now our conference hall) to temporarily accommodate the MMPS
(till its new building was completed). In 1990 chief minister Sharad Pawar
gave the Club the land on a lease of 30 years. During chief minister Manohar
Joshi's tenure we secured the conference hall, after it was vacated by
the MMPS. Securing the land where the Club stands and the conference hall
structure was a hard task, and it required plenty of effort on our part.
We had invited India's president, Zail Singh, to lay the foundation stone
of our proposed building.
But Mantralaya informed us that we could not do so since only the upper
structure was the Club's, and that the land had not been transferred to
us. We took our case to Pawar, who readily agreed to give us the land.
With regard to the conference hall, the place was ordered to be given
to the Maharashtra Sahitya Sanskriti Mandal by minister for culture Pramod
Navalkar, not knowing that it was part of the Press Club's premises. I
made a strong representation, with supporting documentary evidence, and
spent more than six months following it up before chief minister Joshi
handed over the building to the Club. We are now in the 33rd year of the
Club's existence, but, unfortunately, the building project remains just
that - a project rather than reality.