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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

It's not a family soap

Why are we so surprised that Rahul snorted cocaine and thought he would get away with it, asks Barkha Dutt.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2006 03:29 IST

One month ago, he was the picture of pathos; a brave young man broken and bewildered by his father’s murder. Now suddenly, our grief has transformed dramatically into a self-satisfied gloat. As our cameras track Rahul Mahajan’s journey from Power to Prison, we believe that justice has finally been done. The sleaze has been shorn of pretence and places to hide; the underbelly of the urban rich has been ripped open to reveal its innate ugliness.

But are you beginning to feel just a little unsettled and uncomfortable with the easy broad-strokes in which the story has been painted?

I am.

Not because poor-little-rich kids evoke my empathy. Not because there can be any two opinions on the unsavoury confluence of cash and cocaine. And not because the media transgressed decency and trespassed a private zone.

It’s the contradiction and the hypocrisy of our response that bothers me. That, and the ease of our extremes; how lazily we lurch from praise to prejudice. As you follow the twists and turns of this sordid saga, just pause and rewind, and consider how differently we reacted to the Father and Son.

The clever and charismatic Pramod Mahajan imbued politics with a certain energy and vivacity. But the backroom machinations that made him politically indispensable came from his ability to swim with the sharks. Scandal and Success became fellow travellers in his life journey. His was the  schizophrenia of new money.  On the one hand was the acquired sophistication; the suaveness wrapped up and ready to go, in a blemish-free,  crispy-clean white kurta. On the other side were the allegations of murder, malpractice, murky financial dealings, adultery; every accomplishment left behind a trail of serious impropriety.

Yet, when he was killed, it was as if we forgot about one half of his life. We skipped the  awkward bits and wrote anecdotal obituaries of his pragmatism and pugnacity; we competed with each other to claim him as the one politico-friend we were not ashamed to have; even when we alluded to his seamier side, we mostly spoke admiringly of his willingness to look controversy in the eye.

Was it because his unseemly death had made us polite and gentler? Or was it because we  were guilty of power- tripping; of being too friendly with politicians to be able to be entirely honest about them either when they are alive or when they are gone?

Either way, our eulogy for him is in stark contrast to the relentless, unforgiving scrutiny we have subjected his son to. Ironic, given that the charges the father faced while he was alive were much graver than snorting cocaine.

Pramod Mahajan’s personality was a cocktail of contradictions, both potent and dangerous. What chance did his son possibly have to turn out any different? Far from being disapproving, a father who was seduced by the glamour and games of the high life seemed to want the same for his son. Rahul Mahajan was clearly brought up in the cocooned comfort that comes with wealth and influence.

We all know the stories: A television contract with Doordarshan while his father was Information and Broadcasting Minister; a stint as a pilot with Jet Airways, an airline his father was always accused of being extra-close to; his sudden jump into the software business when his dad was Communications Minister; the many hours he spent at a Bombay nightclub part-owned by his father’s aide, Bibek Moitra; Rahul  walked the wild side, with his father not just looking on benignly, but often leading the way.

It’s no coincidence that the only time Rahul Mahajan has got into any serious trouble is after his father has died. It’s almost as if Pramod had decided that his children would never have to replicate his own robust struggle in making the journey from a village in Maharashtra to the nerve-centre of politics. For a smart man, that may have been among his most foolish decisions. Pramod Mahajan’s twin personalities swung between two extremes: the enforced frugality and orthodoxy of the RSS, a world into which he was born, and the ostentatious glitz of fame and fortune, a world to which he was inexorably drawn.

Sadly he forgot, or perhaps just didn’t care much for, the world that lay somewhere in the middle.

But why blame him alone? To me, this is the larger theme song of not just the Mahajan tragedy, but also the times we live in — the demise of middle-class values among those who make it big. New money seems to have obliterated the value of struggle as a virtue. Wealth has erased the need for a work-ethos. And displaying money is no longer in poor taste; the bigger your bash, the better.

So, children of rich parents no longer have to make it on their own. Private cars ferry kids to school instead of public transport or the school bus; there isn’t a schoolkid who doesn’t own a cellphone; and designer brands sneak their way into a uniform that was created to erase signs of class differences. Turn 18 and you will be gifted your first car. Turn 21 and you will be the owner of a flat. And if you would like to study in America or England, no problem, papa  will just write you a cheque.

And what happens to these kids when they are all grown up? Well, take a look at some  famous sons of powerful fathers — Manu Sharma, Sanjeev Nanda, Vikas Yadav,  Fardeen Khan, Rahul Mahajan. Their notoriety and reputations are strung together by a single thread — a life handed to them on a platter; a life so sheltered, spoilt and littered with money that they swagger through everything, believing  that the rules will simply bend for them.

Tragically, that’s exactly what often happens, and we in the media may have something to do with it.

Like Pramod  Mahajan, the media also exhibit an essential duality; one part of us plays aggressive watchdog crusading for justice; the other, an overeager lapdog obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous.

Our front pages follow Fardeen Khan’s cocaine case in court; our glossies give even more space to his wedding; our headlines track how many days Yanchi Vadera spent in prison for drug-use; our Page 3 sections gossip about whether his marriage is still intact; our investigation teams report how the Nanda family colluded in destroying evidence; our supplements photograph Sanjeev Nanda with Vaseline-smeared filters and soft  lights, with an accompanying piece on how he is rebuilding his life; our crime correspondents pound the pavements hunting down drug peddlers at trendy parties; our entertainment correspondents devote hours of air time to the 48-hour long  raves in Goa.

The rich and famous believe that money will provide the ultimate legitimacy, and we end up proving them right.

Rahul Mahajan is merely his father's son; a product of our times. Why are we so surprised that he snorted cocaine and thought he could get away it?