Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times, June 4, 2006
The drug overdose incident involving Pramod Mahajan’s son, Rahul, and close aide, Vivek Moitra, has delivered a body blow to the BJP. Its sagging image has taken a further beating even though the saffron outfit on Saturday made a conscious effort to distance itself from the cocaine and champagne scandal that threatens to expose many skeletons in the cupboards of senior leaders. Though a cover-up operation has reportedly started, the incident is bound to be used by opponents of the ruling coterie both inside and outside the party to unmask the real and future face of the BJP.
Sushma Swaraj’s meek defence of her party was unconvincing since, earlier in the week, BJP President Rajnath Singh, who has been showing undue interest in grooming the young Mahajan, had described him on television as “a good boy”. He appeared keen to give Rahul a responsible position in the organisation, perhaps also because of his close proximity to the late Pramod Mahajan. Mahajan junior had also told reporters that he would abide by the party chief’s decision regarding his future career.
It was obvious that the BJP was considering launching Rahul into politics, possibly as its answer to the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi. Attempts through friendly media channels was made to portray Rahul Mahajan as a man with tremendous composure, who kept his grief to himself and instead consoled everyone else, including his uncle and senior BJP leader, Gopinath Munde, during his father’s funeral. Most senior leaders, including those who may have taken the decision to distance the party from Friday’s incident, had marvelled at his inner strength.
Stories originating from Mumbai led everyone believe that Rahul Mahajan would replace his father and that there was unanimity amongst all to give him the Rajya Sabha seat held by Pramod. Vivek Moitra played an important role in this projection, though Mahajan’s other aide, Harish Sharma, appeared inclined towards making Mahajan’s widow his political heir.
One only wonders how such stories could do the rounds of the media, since the Congress-NCP would hardly allow someone the opportunity to grab a Rajya Sabha seat that could easily be wrested from the party. The Congress and NCP are in power and naturally would want their own nominee to replace Mahajan, notwithstanding the generosity with which NCP chief Sharad Pawar reportedly said that he would want Mahajan’s kin to be in Parliament. It is clear now that in the June by-election, the seat will go to a Congress nominee.
Therefore, what is surprising is that since his Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde personality got revealed, the BJP is actively trying to disown its plans for Rahul Mahajan. Had this incident not been in the public domain, he could have survived politically and may even have been given a position of authority by the party. After all, Pramod Mahajan was a key figure who’d helped transform the BJP from a party of petty traders and middle-classes to one that enjoyed corporate patronage and made India shine for some of the rich and famous.
A reality check on Mahajan’s political accomplishments may not be as flattering as was made out to be when he was battling for his life in Hinduja hospital. Incidentally, the Mumbai police has still not disclosed Pravin Mahajan’s real motive behind shooting his brother. Perhaps this, too, may have caused embarrassment to the BJP, which, like in the present instance, may have been compelled to dissociate itself from even Pramod, who was held in very high regard by some of the top leaders. With his death, several controversies in which he was involved seem to have been pushed into the dustbin of history.
The BJP has been a party that always took pride in its distinct identity. It was inspired by the RSS, which laid great stress on character building and the development of its supporters into pure practitioners of Hinduism. Some of them remained bachelors, leading to unproved allegations over their sexual preferences. But the RSS swayamsewaks acquitted themselves during natural calamities and during threats to the nation. In the early Sixties, during Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure, a RSS contingent also participated in the Republic Day parade.
But the drug overdose scandal has now severely dented the image of the saffron brigade. A son who claimed he wanted to immerse his father’s ashes in the Brahmaputra decided to consume liquor and drugs along with his aides and friends before the holy ritual could be completed. Investigations will also throw more light on Moitra’s activities. This may also reveal details about the Mahajans, whose confidence he enjoyed, and, by logical corollary, also about the BJP’s murkier side. There have been suggestions that Moitra was privy to a lot of financial dealings of both Mahajan and his party. But it is for the police to ascertain whether he was murdered or died after consuming a poison.
There is also a theory doing the rounds that some very important people were present at the party that night and the surrender of the three youths was organised in order to shield them. There are indications of foul play from the manner in which the scene of the incident was disturbed and from the fact that instead of driving the victims to Safdarjung, AIIMS or RML, they were taken to Apollo, 16 kilometres away. Surely, the police will be able to verify the authenticity of this theory but in the absence of transparent investigations, more such theories may do the rounds. The incident has ruined Rahul Mahajan's political ambitions and put the BJP in the ICU. Maybe another chintan baithak is called for.