Fratricidal fire

Print edition : May 19, 2006

Pravin Mahajan will be tried for murder. - SEBASTIAN D'SOUZA/AFP

WHEN Pravin Mahajan walked into his elder brother Pramod Mahajan's flat on that fateful morning of April 22, the latter was reading the newspaper and barely looked up. When Pravin spoke to him, Pramod's response was reportedly monosyllabic. Already seething with pent-up anger against his brother, Pravin had just about had enough. He pulled out a revolver and shot his brother three times at point-blank range. Pravin then gave himself up at the Worli police station nearby.Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Rajya Sabha Member Pramod Mahajan battled for his life for 12 days. According to the police, when a jailer told Pravin Mahajan about his brother's death on May 3, the younger sibling showed no sign of emotion. He just said "Are you sure?" As soon as the death was announced Pravin, who had earlier been charged under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code for attempt to murder, was charged under Section 302 with murder. He will now face trial on this count.

What made Pravin Mahajan resort to this extreme measure? Several theories have been circulating, including "personal" and financial reasons. The police version and official line is that it is a clear and classic case of sibling jealousy; the success of one brother caused extreme resentment and hatred in the other. Indications are that there were deeper and more sinister reasons. However, those in the BJP who may be able to provide the details remain tight-lipped.

Perhaps because it is a high-profile case, the police are making extremely cautious statements. Pramod Mahajan was a powerful man, particularly in Maharasahtra. Speculators whisper that the investigation is going slow because the police are not too enthusiastic about unearthing facts that could lead to a great deal of embarrassment for the family and the party.

So why did Pravin pull the trigger? A senior police official told Frontline that the first explanation Pravin gave was that he had gone that morning to sort out some business dealings he had with Pramod and required his help in some personal matter. When his brother did not acknowledge him and later told him to speak to his secretary about it, he felt extremely offended. He had, however, come prepared for this treatment and when Pramod behaved arrogantly with him he decided to teach his brother a lesson.He told the police, "Once I shot him, my anger disappeared and Pramod ceased to be my brother."

It was a deep-rooted resentment against his brother that eventually drove him to commit the crime, said Arup Patnaik, Joint Commissioner of Police. In his statement during interrogations, Pravin said that ever since he was a young boy he was treated badly by his brother. Over the years the humiliation worsened. According to the police, Pravin told them that "Pramod would insult or even ignore me in public... Pramod was called the Rs.2,000-crore man. But I got nothing out of the wealth he amassed. Everyone else around him, including his P.A., became rich." He apparently said that it angered him that whenever Pramod did help him, it always came with a lot of conditions attached.

Senior BJP Leader Gopinath Munde pays his last respects.-SABASTIAN D'SOUZA/AFP

Patnaik, who is part of the investigating team, said that it was clear that Pravin had been planning this operation for some time, he just needed the right excuse. "When a non-criminal commits a crime like murder, the process begins with strong motives." It was premeditated, he told Frontline. From the sequence of events it seems clear Pravin had an agenda. He left his house at 5.30 a.m., stopped twice en route for tea and to pray, then waited below Pramod's flat until he knew Pramod would be awake. Then he made his move.

Patnaik says there is no indication of remorse or repentance in Pravin: "Not a shred of it can be seen on his face or in his body language." According to him, Pravin is taking advantage of the fact that this is a high-profile case and the police are treading carefully. He bullies people in the lock-up, demanding better service. Such is his arrogance that he has refused to give a confessional statement and does not believe he should.

"We think he is telling us the truth but there are gaps in his stories. We need to understand where such hatred and resentment stems from," Patnaik told Frontline. And contrary to his lawyer's claim, he is mentally completely stable. "There is no doubt about that," he said. Ever since Pravin surrendered, his lawyer, Nandkumar Rajulkar, has claimed his client is mentally unstable. "That is a natural line of defence in a case like this," says a criminal lawyer. "But with Pravin giving clear statements, Rajulkar's arguments may not have much strength." Meanwhile, in a strange twist of events, Pravin has denied any links with Rajulkar, saying he has not yet appointed any lawyer.

Why would Pramod Mahajan, known amongst his friends and family to be an extremely generous man, treat his brother so badly? According to BJP sources, Pramod had, in fact, bailed out his brother many times but had tired of his wayward ways. Pravin, they allege, has a weakness for alcohol and shady business arrangements. It was Pramod who set him up as a consultant for Reliance Infocomm. It was Pramod, again, who bought his younger brother an apartment in Thane, where the family currently lives. And it was Pramod who chose his younger brother's bride Sarangi and ensured that he married with fanfare.

Reportedly, the brothers had a reasonably good relationship for many years. Pravin, in fact, handled a fair amount of Pramod's personal finances and business interests for him. However, when Pramod's daughter Poonam married Anand Rao in 2001, Pramod began relying on his son-in-law, Pravin resented this deeply; the relationship soured over the past year to the extent that the brothers hardly spoke. Indeed, Pravin only came to know of Pramod's arrival in Mumbai in April through the local press.

Pramod Mahajan breathed his last at 4.10 p.m. on May 3 after suffering multiple organ failure due to bullet wounds. His liver, pancreas and inferior vena cava had been damaged by the bullets, which were still wedged in his body. During the 12 days he was in the intensive care unit of the P.D Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, he suffered severe internal bleeding, his kidney began failing and his blood pressure fell to 50 (normal 120). He was kept on a life-support machine and drugs. He finally succumbed to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

The BJP's "GenNext" leader, as Pramod Mahajan was popularly called, was cremated at the Shivaji Park crematorium in Mumbai on May 4. His wife Rekha, daughter Poonam and son Rahul, who performed the last rites, were by his side until his body was consigned to flames.

Former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and brother-in-law and close friend of Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde, who had not left Mahajan's side since he was shot, was visibly upset. So too was Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was very close to Mahajan. BJP dignitaries, as well as a host of prominent politicians from across the political spectrum, businessmen and film personalities were present. Thousands of BJP supporters shouted slogans while the casket made its way to the crematorium.

On the day Pramod Mahajan died, Pravin was remanded to judicial custody. His case will be heard on May 17.

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