Pimps, fixers & tentwallahs

By the time you read this, we will know more about circumstances that led to Moitra?s death and Rahul's overdose, writes Vir Sanghvi in Counterpoint.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2006 10:02 IST

Perhaps by the time you read this, we will know more about the circumstances that led to Vivek Moitra’s death and Rahul Mahajan’s overdose (assuming that it was an overdose). This is a story that seems to change by the minute as new witnesses emerge, as new medical tests are conducted and — at least that’s how it seems to me — as a massive cover-up begins to be put in place.

But, on Saturday evening, here are the facts as we know them: Rahul Mahajan was in Delhi as part of a trip to immerse his late father Pramod Mahajan’s ashes. On Thursday night, he decided to stay in at Pramod’s old official residence on Delhi’s Safdarjung Road with Moitra, Pramod’s former private secretary. The two men consumed large qualities of alcohol including at least two bottles of champagne.

At some stage, Moitra phoned a friend of his called Sahil Zarru. He asked Sahil to come over and bring some friends with him.

Zarru brought two friends along. Despite widespread speculation about Moitra’s sexual preferences, there does not seem to have been a gay angle to the evening.

Moitra asked Zarru to arrange for some cocaine. Zarru dropped off one of his friends in Greater Kailash, picked up another one and then, drove to Vasant Vihar, where he paid Rs 15,000 for a packet of a white powder which, the dealer told him, was cocaine.

He went back to Safdarjung Road where Moitra and Rahul Mahajan quickly cut lines of cocaine with a 500-rupee note and began snorting. Mahajan was already drunk, but partook of the cocaine anyway. At this stage, Zarru, who had probably also snorted a line or two, decided to go and drop one of his friends home.

When he returned to Safdarjung Road, he found Mahajan and Moitra lying unconscious in the room. By some accounts, they were foaming at the mouth. Zarru panicked and asked the servants to take them to hospital. The servants either called Sudhanshu Mittal, a Delhi tent-wallah who is a Mahajan family stooge, or Harish Sharma, Pramod Mahajan’s other private secretary. They were told to put the two men in cars (fortuitously, two Mahajan family drivers were around at that time of the night) and send then to Apollo Hospital.

Why Apollo Hospital? Of Delhi’s best-known hospitals, this is probably the farthest away from Safdarjung Road. Many other hospitals, including the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are much nearer.

Nobody has explained that yet: though, of course, there are the usual theories.

At any rate, Moitra seems to have died in the car on the lengthy journey to the hospital. And Mahajan was admitted in an unconscious state.

Zarru went to another hospital where the doctor gave him an injection (he had consumed both, alcohol and cocaine) and sent him home. He took a flight to Srinagar the next morning. His friends all panicked when they saw the news on TV the following day, contacted lawyers, told their stories to news channels and went to the Mandir Marg police station to record their statements late on Friday night. Zarru waited till Saturday before finding a lawyer in Srinagar and going to yet another news channel.

If this version of events is accurate — and as of now, it seems to be borne out by the facts — then it suggests that the younger Mahajan and Moitra were cocaine users. It does not explain why Moitra died because cocaine, unless you consume it in industrial quantities, is not usually fatal. What seems more likely is that the pusher gave Zarru a packet of something else: either cocaine which had been adulterated with toxic substances or perhaps another drug entirely.

No matter which drug killed Moitra, none of this will please the BJP. It is all very well to say — as the party spokesman did on Saturday — that this is a private matter. But the truth is that it is not. There was a very real move to ask the younger Mahajan to stand for the Rajya Sabha seat that fell vacant on Pramod’s death. And if that had not worked out, plans were already in place to install him one of the leaders of the party’s youth wing.

The BJP now says, in its defence, that Mahajan had not yet occupied any post. And its spokesmen are briefing journalists off-the-record, that they always knew that Rahul Mahajan was a bit of a waster and a party animal. Moreover, they say, he suffered from several psychological deficiencies, including anxiety, neurosis and was being treated for clinical depression.

If this is true, then these are interesting qualifications for a leader of the youth wing of the party with a difference. (As the current barb goes: just what is the difference? That they have more cocaine than the rest of us?)

More damaging still is what the incident tells us about the party’s culture. I always liked Pramod Mahajan at a personal level and I admired his quick intelligence. But nobody who covered Indian politics was blind to the goings-on at his Safdarjung Road bungalow.
Three years ago, I wrote about the culture of sleaze that emanated from the gang that surrounded him. Two years ago, when the Mahajan men (led by Moitra and Sudhanshu Mittal) organised the party’s disastrous election campaign and then followed it up with a convention at a seven-star hotel in Bombay, I wrote, in this paper, about the pimps, fixers and tentwallahs who had taken over an important section of the BJP. And last month, when Pramod was murdered, I wrote that I could never understand why he allowed his house to become the headquarters of an extended family of pimps, fixers and tentwallahs (yes, that phrase again) who made millions in his name.

I may have been one of the few people to have actually written all this, but I was hardly the only one to say it. Even within the BJP, there were murmurs about the culture of sleaze and corruption that emanated from Safdarjung Road and worries that this gang was making deals in such BJP-ruled states as Rajasthan.

But the BJP’s sole reaction was to eulogise Pramod. And his gang quickly tried to prop up Rahul in his place so that the party could go on at Safdarjung Road. Bizarrely, the BJP leadership seemed inclined to go along with this plan.

Now, the party has ended. And it is no longer possible to pretend that Safdarjung Road was an ashram or that Mahajan introduced a ‘corporate culture’ to the BJP.

Small wonder then that a cover-up is being attempted. The young boys who were present that night are sought to be victimised. They will be portrayed as the coke addicts. Apollo Hospital has already told us that there were no drugs in Rahul’s bloodstream (good choice of hospital, clearly). Perhaps the BJP will now claim that poor Rahul and the saintly Vivek were poisoned by mysterious evil men.

It has worked in the past. Think back to Pramod’s murder. Any reporter on the police beat in Bombay will tell you that Sharad Pawar has instructed the local cops (the NCP controls the Home Ministry) to keep a tight lid on Pravin Mahajan’s motives. That’s why we still don’t know why he killed his own brother.

Nobody in the BJP wants the facts to get out: that the powerful PS of a man they all now claim would have been Prime Minister one day not only did cocaine but also procured cocaine for his leader’s family, hardly reflects well on the party. If the rumours about cellphone records - and the coke dealers whose numbers appear on them - are true, then this tends to confirm what we always suspected: that the crores that were illegally collected by the Safdarjung Road gang went into drinks, drugs and wild partying.

It is not my case that nobody else in Delhi does coke. Perhaps there are other politicians in other parties with errant sons who like sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. (I can think of one or two candidates from the Congress instantly.) And there is no doubt that the cocaine culture now includes much of Delhi’s super-nouveau riche underbelly.

My point is not about Rahul or even Vivek. It is about the BJP’s continual tolerance of the sleaze at Safdarjung Road. Most people in the party knew what was going on. But they tolerated it because the Mahajan gang knew how to make big bucks and to spread them around.

I hope that, this time around, the cover-up will fail. And that we will know the truth. The consequences may not be very pleasant for the BJP. But the rest of us are entitled to the truth. And frankly, in the long run, even the sangh parivar will be better off without the pimps, fixers and tentwallahs.

First Published: Jun 04, 2006 02:40 IST