The Mahajan Saga:

Corporate Cash and Political Morality

The scandal of Pramod Mahajan's murder and son Rahul's drug party has left the BJP scrambling for cover. The lofty and stern RSS injunctions about Hindutva family values as the bedrock of ‘Indianness' lie in tatters, mocked by a public fratricide and drug binge involving the family of one of their most public leaders. In response, the BJP rushed to distance the party from the ‘personal tragedy' for the Mahajan family; later amending this to a promise that the party would not desert the family in times of its crisis. But can the phenomenon of Pramod Mahajan and his role in the BJP really be neatly divorced from the spectacle of his intimate personal secretary and his son chasing cocaine and collapsing after a dangerous cocktail of drugs and alcohol? Is the whole phenomenon nothing more than an acute embarrassment for the BJP, or does it raise more fundamental questions about political culture and morality that implicate a broader political spectrum than the BJP alone?

The Congress swears by Gandhian ideals, the BJP boasted of ‘charitranirman' (character building) and ‘Indian traditional values' as their touchstone, the Samajwadi Party spoke of socialism and social justice. These high-sounding ideals ring hollow, undercut by the ubiquitous presence of shady ‘fundraisers' – a species which included Pramod Mahajan, Sitaram Kesri, Amar Singh. Scams and scandals – the Mahajan episode, the Amar Singh tapes – give us an occasional peep into the shadowy world of these fundraisers. Hearing Amar Singh being thanked by big industrialists for ‘remembering' them in various illegal favours, reading about the cash Mahajan had ‘parked' with some businessman – we get the feeling we are seeing a mere tip of a formidable iceberg.

These politicians excel in the essential task of mobilising corporate cash. It was Pramod Mahajan's proud boast that he could deliver hundreds of crores within minutes. Can such corporate favours come without attendant corruption; without return favours to the munificent corporate donors? As Communications Minister in the NDA Government, Mahajan bent TRAI regulations to favour Reliance and the Ambanis. Corporate cash can favour many political parties at the same time: Amar Singh too is known to enjoy the same Ambani connection. Frontline , reporting on the telecom scam, had commented on the reticence of the PMO and the Congress to take action against Mahajan in all these cases. Since the entire spectrum of ruling class parties are often tainted by the same Midas touch of corporate gold, each is naturally loath to expose the other.

The intimate embrace between corporate cash and political groups also has other inevitable linkages – using family connections to whitewash cash, doling out favours to family, being able to use corporate hush money to buy doctors, mediapeople, and even judges, being able to buy/command sexual favours...Many of these links were seen in Amar Singh's boasts on tape; many can be seen in the Mahajan episode too. We recall that Mahajan was also accused of doling out favours to a company owned by wife and son while he was Information and Broadcasting Minister. And the web of corruption in the Reliance telecom scam also included the company owned by wife and son. We also recall Pramod Mahajan's implication in Shivani Bhatnagar's murder, and his reputation for playing with the lives of women. It is these complex threads of family and relationships that came home to roost in Pramod Mahajan's own murder. Bibek Moitra's drug habit and his use of Pramod Mahajan's official residence to meet peddlers and carry out shady deals could hardly have remained a secret from Mahajan himself; Rahul is said to have received treatment for addiction earlier. The addiction itself might simply have been tragic and unfortunate – if it were not for the fact that far from helping a young man admit a problem, express remorse, and face up to it, his family and the BJP are only helping him to cover it up, deny it, and shift the blame onto others. The idea that one can buy one's way out of a crisis is not just the fancy of a ‘misguided youth' like Rahul Mahajan – it is the philosophy and ethos of India 's political class.

It seems that dominant political parties in India present a flimsy facade of lofty values only to appeal to the peasant morality of a peasant-dominated society, to mask over the actual decay and venality that follows from rampant corporatisation. Even the Election Commission, far from checking the trend towards corporatisation, has only taken steps to legitimise it by raising the ceiling of election spending. Commentators like M J Akbar have declared that exorbitant amounts are the inevitable costs of democracy, and have claimed that any talk of doing away with the black economy can only be hypocrisy. All that is needed is for politicians to learn to wear the ‘culture of money' gracefully, it seems; they should learn not to crudely flaunt their cash by using five-hundred rupee notes to chase cocaine! Akbar notes, however, that it Communists have somehow managed to maintain personal integrity – but does not explain how.

The fact is that a bedrock of corporate political economy can only support a superstructure of personal and political corruption – no political party that relies on the pitch of corporate cash can hope not to be defiled. It is only an alternate political economy – not just for the national economy but for parties too – that can nurture a different political culture and morality. And it is only the political economy of Communist parties that offer the material basis for true political morality.

– KK