May 07, 2006

Mahajan: Man and myth by Sandhya Jain

By Sandhya Jain
The Organiser
Saturday, May 6, 2006
vigilonline.com
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Even in his last cogent moments, Bharatiya Janata
Party leader Pramod Mahajan proved he was made of a
different mettle. Far from losing his nerve at the
unexpected dastardly attack upon him, Mr. Mahajan kept
his wits about him, directing his wife to call close
relations and take him to the nearby Hinduja Hospital.
Reports say he also wanted her not to involve the
police and implicate his younger brother; it is
possible he did not understand the seriousness of his
injuries and expected to recover and hush up matters
within the family.

In a sense, it was a perfect postscript to a life
lived king-size - managing difficult, even painful,
matters with leonine fortitude and rising above the
mundane world and its puny people. So when he took his
final call at the promising age of 56, Mahajan finally
achieved the status of 'hriday samrat,' which had
eluded him in an otherwise successful public career.

While we do not know the real motives or conspirators
behind the attack on Mr. Mahajan, it seems unlikely to
be as simple as suggested. BJP leader Vijay Kumar
Malhotra has hinted as much by comparing his departure
with that of Shyama Prasad Mukerjee and Deen Dayal
Upadhyay, who too, were struck down in the prime of
their political lives. For now, the identity of the
assailant has thrown the spotlight upon the former
Minister's tender years, and these give us a rare
insight into the real man behind the public persona.

Mahajan, the eldest of five siblings, had to cut short
his career as a sub-editor when his father died and
return home to Beed help his mother raise the family.
He assumed the responsibility manfully, becoming a
school teacher to provide for the family and joining
the RSS out of an ideological affinity. The most
striking aspect of this story is Mahajan's utter lack
of a sense of victimhood. Far from perceiving his
family as a burden that crushed his youth, he retained
the energy and individuality to pursue his own dreams
without compromising his duties. Over the years, two
sisters and two brothers were married and settled, and
Mahajan found his own life partner in a youth
festival.

The ability to shoulder responsibilities propelled
Mahajan into public life. But he was no ordinary
manager of men and money, no mere fund-raiser or
smooth talker. He has been unfairly projected as the
BJP's laptop-mobile politician, a kind of political
nouveau riche who knew how to traverse the treacherous
terrain of the corporate world, when he was equally at
home in the narrow gullies were votes are raked in.
Above all, he belonged to that rare breed of
politicians who did not shirk responsibility when
things went wrong; the second in command who did not
jump ship even if the captain did. This came out most
starkly when he was blamed for the excessive slickness
of the 'India Shining' campaign, which was indirectly
blamed for the BJP's defeat in 2004. Mahajan took the
call, even though the topmost BJP leadership avoided a
genuine introspection of the causes for the defeat,
which surely lay in the multiple sins of omission and
commission of the NDA regime.

Mahajan's apparent brashness, his devil-may-care
bravado when things went wrong, often concealed his
deep ideological commitment to his parent
organization, the RSS, and also his personal
discipline and loyalty to the BJP. While the BJP
teetered between ad hocism and incoherence in the
aftermath of its defeat, he observed party discipline
and accepted all public chastisement, taking the flak
for the Maharashtra defeat and playing second fiddle
in the Bihar elections. At the same time, he did not
hesitate to organize the party's national council or
silver jubilee celebrations, where he received the
cryptic sobriquet of 'Laxman.' I remember being asked
what I thought of it as other colleagues scrambled to
share the title; some dubbed themselves as 'Hanuman.'
My response was spontaneous: none of these epic
characters made it to the throne. Sadly, this was to
be true of Pramod Mahajan, though like others, I had
also envisaged him as a future leader.

During the unsavoury Jinnah controversy, Mahajan
rallied quietly behind the RSS on the issue of
ideological deviance. His statement that he was a long
distance runner and was not among those squabbling for
the top job helped the RSS clinch matters in favour of
Mr. Rajnath Singh. It was also his finest hour - the
surrender of position for an immeasurable elevation in
stature.

More significantly, it signalled the return to roots
and values by second rung leaders, the very persons
whose outwardly affluent lifestyles were used by an
influential section to proclaim the irrelevance of
ideology. In this context, it may be pertinent to
mention that if Pramod Mahajan was really killed
because his brother wanted far more advantages from
his position than were reasonable to expect, it
follows that Mahajan had not indulged in excessive
nepotism after initially helping his brothers to stand
on their own feet. It is a sobering thought.

Pramod Mahajan's myriad qualities were often submerged
in the politicking by his fellow politicos. Yet even
they could not deny him due credit - it was he who
conceived the winning alliance with the Shiv Sena in
Maharashtra, breaking the Congress stranglehold over
that crucial state. Indeed, he had the uncanny knack
of forging winning political alliances, and helped sew
up many of the deals that led to the formation of the
NDA. In the days to come, the BJP will realize the
true nature of its loss.

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