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The Mahajans

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One of India’s most powerful politicians is killed by his brother. Son goes on drug orgy, friend dies. Killer brother dies in jail. Now son gets married on reality TV. Here is a family that is stranger than fiction.

On a day when Rahul Mahajan upped the TRP ratings for a TV channel and married Dimpy Ganguli on a reality show, his deceased uncle Pravin Mahajan’s ashes had just been immersed. Pravin’s family did not know of Rahul’s wedding as they had not watched TV for some time. On that evening when Rahul gained a substantial sum of money from the show, his uncle’s family was looking for ways and means to pay off the Rs 18 lakh hospital bill accumulated over 82 days of Pravin’s hospitalisation and subsequent death due to brain haemorrhage.

The three years since the death of Pramod Mahajan, who fell to the bullets of his brother Pravin on 26 April 2006, have kept the Mahajans in the spotlight. They have made headlines with amazing frequency. When Pravin died on 3 March this year, whispers of foul play got a few decibels shriller. Convicted for his brother’s murder, Pravin was serving a life sentence at the Nasik central prison. He was granted a 14-day furlough as his wife Sarangi had an acute gynaecological problem which needed surgery. She was adamant on undergoing the medical procedure only if her husband was with her.

On the last day of his furlough, Pravin was hospitalised following brain haemorrhage.

As Rahul got married on TV, neither he nor his mother Rekha displayed any signs of grief. Even close family friends felt that Rekha should have asked the channel to postpone the wedding: “The wedding ceremony was on the third day after his uncle died. In the Marathi tradition, the third day after death is an important day.”

All through the weeks that Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega was being aired, both his mother Rekha and paternal grandmother Prabhavati watched his antics with the girls and even played hosts to the three finalists at their home. The grandmother dined with the girls and seemed to have a good time. This, while her youngest son was lying in coma in Thane’s Jupiter Hospital. He had been in that state since December. But Prabhavati never visited the hospital.

Both Prabhavati and Rekha were present for the show’s finale. Even if it was shot on a Thursday, as it is usually done, it would have been the day of Pravin’s cremation. No one from the Mahajan family attended the funeral.

THE TRIAL

Pravin’s version of what took place at his brother’s house that fateful morning will not be known until 2027, when details can be sourced through a Right To Information (RTI) plea. On 30 October 2007, Pravin went under oath to testify in his defence. Before entering the box, Pravin told the judge that other witnesses had lied to the court. However, barely had he started speaking than the prosecution pleaded that his testimony was “scandalous” and asked for it to be recorded behind closed doors. The judge conceded it.

Now with Pravin dead, will what he told Judge Srihari Davare ever come out in the open?

According to sources, though, while the prosecution was keen on proving that Pravin shot Pramod as he was feeling belittled by him, the reality was different. While some say that he objected to the BJP leader’s alleged philandering ways, others say it was about money, as Pravin had a mountain of debt to pay off after striking some questionable land deals. There is also talk of his pulling the trigger because he believed that there was a relationship between his wife Sarangi and Pramod. All this is speculation, but the fact that the police were ordered not to investigate further points to skeletons in the Mahajan closets.

THE BOOK

Pravin’s tell-all book Mazha Album (My Album) flew off shelves on the day it was published. It sold nearly 3,000 copies that day. The book revealed the strained ties between the brothers as well as Pramod’s numerous romances and his brother-in-law Gopinath Munde’s alleged affair with Barkha, a lavani dancer. ‘Late at night Aai (mother) knocked on my door and said that Pramod wanted to speak to me,’ wrote Pravin. ‘Suddenly vahini (sister-in-law) spoke to me. She said your brother is preparing for his second marriage and the girl had come to the house with a mangalsutra. When we reached, Pramod sobbed uncontrollably and admitted that the affair had been going on for two years.’ The book claims that Pramod had affairs even with foreign diplomats. Once a reprint order was placed, the Congress-NCP-led Maharashtra government directed the jail authorities to find out when and where Pravin had written the book. Predictably, it was an inconclusive investigation.

THE BENEFICIARIES

Every tragedy has its own share of those who stand to profit from it. Pramod’s younger sibling Prakash (54), Prashant Pulliwar (Pravin’s brother-in-law) and Rahul Mahajan seem to have come a long way since that April morning. Prakash, whose political career went nowhere while his elder brother was alive, embarked on one right after Pramod died. Sure that the BJP would not entertain him, he approached Raj Thackeray for a place in the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). He was made its chief organiser, but, denied an Assembly ticket, switched to the Shiv Sena, publicly berating Raj Thackeray.

Prashant Pulliwar, according to sources close to Pravin’s family, is “quietly ambitious and steadily working his way up on the Mahajan equity”. The self-appointed spokesperson for his sister, he is also reportedly the prime mover for Pravin’s book. Politics beckons.

As for Rahul, though he was keen on joining the BJP, the then chief of its Maharashtra unit and current BJP President, Nitin Gadkari shot down the idea. Gadkari had told the media: “Let Rahul Mahajan clear his name from all the charges against him, and we will consider it then.”

The 35-year-old sought a BJP ticket in 2009 too, but was again turned down by Gadkari. Hounded by talk of his cocaine addiction after news of his drug overdose made national headlines two years ago, Rahul’s PR managers worked overtime to ‘reconstruct’ his image. When the reality show Bigg Boss was planning its second season, Rahul was signed on after appropriate manoeuvres by his image makers. Then came Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega. On Bigg Boss 2, Rahul tried to woo item girl Payal Rohatgi and was seen kissing her skimpily-clad body passionately. When she was voted out, he started stalking Monica Bedi, wife of incarcerated don Abu Salem. It was all on camera.

Earlier, a month after his father died, Rahul and his father’s secretary Vivek Moitra were busted by the Delhi Police. They had had a cocktail of drugs along with champagne and were snorting powder on 500-rupee currency notes. While Moitra died enroute to hospital, Rahul recovered. He was booked only on charges of consumption of banned drugs and let off the drug trafficking charges which entailed harsher punishment. Apollo Hospitals fudged the medical reports and declared that no trace of any drug was found in his bloodstream. It was the drug confirmation of an independent test that forced a retraction.

Rahul was once a commercial pilot, and in July 2006, just two months after his father’s death and a month after he was busted, he had got engaged to fellow pilot Shweta Singh. They wedded on 29 August 2006. On 13 December 2007, Shweta filed for divorce, citing incompatibility. She admitted in private that he’d subjected her to mental and physical abuse.

About a year ago, Rahul claimed to have spoken with his deceased father through ‘a medium’. Yet, aware of his low chances with the BJP, he recently remarked that the salary of an MP or an MLA is not even enough to buy good clothes.

Two days after Rahul’s recent wedding with 21-year-old Dimpy, their first visit was to a Delhi court. On 5 March, he’d asked for the release of his passport, impounded in the drug fracas, to enable a honeymoon in the Maldives and Ireland. He is expected to stay abroad till 30 March.

THE ISOLATION

Today Pravin’s family lives a quiet life in Thane. His twin children, Kapil and Vaishali, in junior college now, prefer the seclusion of their home. Sarangi has borne the brunt of the Mahajans’ wrath. Sources say that she was at the heart of the brothers’ bitter feud. Also, Sarangi was not on good terms with Rekha—who rarely ever visited her and knew little of how regularly Pramod visited Pravin’s house. When Sarangi had a problem, it was always Pramod she turned to, and sources say this incensed her husband Pravin. Besides, people were already whispering about the oddness of the arrangement.

In 2006, when Pramod was battling for his life at Hinduja Hospital, Sarangi was keen to visit him. But her mother-in-law did not allow it. Though Pravin was in jail during this period, Sarangi did not visit him for many days.

Few offered condolences to Sarangi and her children after her husband’s death. None of his sisters or their families came to the funeral. The only representative from the Mahajan family was Pravin’s elder brother Prakash.

“I have pledged my complete support to the family. He was my brother, and they deserve more than my condolences. They need my support and I will be by them no matter any pressure from anyone,” said Prakash solemnly. “I do not have much of a standing with Pramod’s family. Otherwise, they would have informed me that Rahul is getting married on TV.”

Gopinath Munde, who is married to Pravin’s sister Pradnya, chose to distance himself from the family after his wife made it clear to him that there would be no social visits whatsoever.

Unlike Rahul’s previous marriage, Pramod Mahajan’s daughter, 30-year-old Poonam, decided to skip it this time round. Though an intensely private person, since the death of her father, she has been aggressively trying to be the sole heir to her late father’s political fortunes. “The biggest reality was the death of my father. Nothing else is important,” she said. Both she and her mother are building up a bank of social work which includes running a school, and women and child empowerment projects. It is no secret that both Rekha and Poonam are keen on “carrying forward” Pramod’s legacy via the ballot box. While Rekha’s candidature was nipped in the bud by Gadkari, Munde had to fight hard to get an assembly ticket for Poonam. But she lost.

This is a family stranger than fiction. And only they know the truth about what happened to them. And they will never speak.