Friday, Aug 19, 2022

The Return Of Controversy's Favourite Child, Pramod Mahajan

Six years ago, in August 2009, deceased BJP leader Pramod Mahajan’s life was being sold as a Marathi bestseller. A 102-page book titled Maaza Album (My Album) had found its way into the market, claiming to be a tell-all on Pramod Mahajan’s life and times.

For those looking for answers into Pramod’s killing, shot at by his own younger brother Pravin Mahajan, at his own residence, in 2006, the book had been penned by Pravin lodged in jail and published by Pravin’s wife Sarangi.

The book, Pravin claimed, was an attempt to put the record straight and not an effort to clear his own name in his famous-brother’s murder. Reason why Pravin had consumed all his jail hours to reveal Pramod’s many dark secrets.

It included details on Pramod’s alleged greed for power, money and stardom and among other things Pramod’s relationships with various women, including a journalist.

Six years since Maaza Album’s release, Pramod Mahajan’s alleged love life and brush with power and greed have once again found mention in the Essar Tapes, unveiled by ‘Outlook’.

While the authenticity of the tapes is yet to be established, in the tapes, Pramod Mahajan, the once powerful new-age leader of the BJP, often described as a “technocrat politician” is heard confirming much of what his brother Pravin had written in his book.

For those who knew Pramod Mahajan well and had seen him up-close, the Essar Tapes are simply a validation of the transformation of Pramod Mahajan: from an idealist who started his political career as a full time RSS pracharak, to a man obsessed with power, harbouring the ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of the country.

Ironically, his own party members now remember Pramod Mahajan as a man who changed the very nature and ethos of the BJP from a party believing in austerity to one promoting and practicing a “five-star culture.”

Before Pramod Mahajan became BJP’s general secretary, the BJP, still guided and run by the old, guard stayed away from what was described as “pomp and show”. Pramod however was enamoured by the bling of the corporate world.

The influence was rather obvious as the Essar Tapes show.

Pramod, after all, had enough friends in the corporate sector, who allegedly not just helped him and his party with generous funds but also allegedly got Pramod to return the same kindness in forms of favours as telecom minister and parliamentary affairs minister under PM Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Clearly, Pramod, the second generation leader of the BJP was driven by his own lust for power. With his advent, party functions became grand and party workers, a pampered lot, goaded on by returns translated into money rather than service and appreciation.

Evidently, the corporatisation of the BJP is what most old party leaders blamed Pramod Mahajan for. Besides, holding him responsible for the flashy campaign of 2004 that cost the BJP its second chance at power and Pramod his opportunity to the PM’s post.

No doubt, Pramod was considered talented by his contemporaries. Pramod’s knack at winning support from top bosses was not just noticed but even envied by most of his partymen. Pramod’s proximity to deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, after he successfully helped organise Advani’s Rath yatra was considered to be the reason for differences between Advani and Vajpayee.

That said, Pramod’s virtues of course helped him rise high in the political landscape of the country in a comparatively short time. Old timers recall Pramod’s friendships across the political spectrum as a force that helped him perform well as the Parliamentary Affairs minister from 1999 to 2003.

However the allegation that he had always helped his industralist friends, mainly the Ambanis of Reliance Industries, to gain from the telecom policies that he pushed as telecom minister between 2001 and 2003, constantly denied him the credit of playing a major role in the cellular revolution in India. He even had a fall out with disinvestment minister Arun Shourie over the privatisation of VSNL.

At the end of the day, Pramod Mahajan, remained controversy’s favourite child and will be perhaps be remembered more for the things that went wrong in his life and career than those that went right.

On the personal front, the taint of his involvement in The Indian Express journalist Shivani Bhatnagar was hard to get rid off till his death in 2006.

On the professional front, Pramod despite his clout, had to live with charges of financial irregularities and underhand dealings right till the end.  In fact, Pravin, his brother charged with Pramod’s murder even alleged that Pramod’s secretary Bibek Moitra who died of a drug overdose in Delhi on June 3, 2006, barely a month after Pramod’s assassination had actually been murdered.

Those who knew Pramod maintain that he liked magnificently told drama. In Pramod’s case that deep desire for magnificence and drama is perhaps still unfolding, ten years after his brutal death.