Murder leaves BJP groping for leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am

Party has lost the only figure with true mass appeal

Shattered by its defeat in the 2004 general election, bereft of ideas, and groping for new leaders to guide it out of the political wilderness, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plunged into further gloom last week with the murder of its leader, Pramod Mahajan.

While Indians struggle to understand the sensational killing - 57-year-old Mahajan was shot dead by his younger brother, Pravin - the party hierarchy remains acutely aware that he was the only leader among the younger BJP politicians who combined mass appeal and a talent for fund-raising.

Before Mahajan rose to prominence, corporate India had held the BJP at a distance. Its support lay in small traders and shopkeepers, but they could hardly fill the party's coffers. It was Mahajan, based in the financial capital Mumbai, who over 20 years won the trust - and donations - of corporations and business houses.

'In his death, the country has lost a skilled organiser, a forceful orator and an aggressive representative of its youth,' said BJP leader and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Always flamboyant, Mahajan dragged the BJP out of its obsession with austerity and into conferences in five-star hotels and Goa beach resorts.

He also courted controversy, being accused of favouring his corporate friends when he was the telecoms minister.

'He made young Indians believe that if he, a small-town boy with humble origins, could make it big, so could they. And his can-do attitude was refreshing,' said the ruling Congress party spokesman, Abhishek Singhvi.

For Mahajan's family, grief is mixed with disbelief. On April 22, estranged brother Pravin walked into Mahajan's high-rise apartment in Mumbai. Mahajan, reading a newspaper, ignored Pravin, who then took out a pistol and shot him three times.

He died on Wednesday of multiple organ failure.

Pravin told police: 'Everyone around him, including his personal assistants, became rich - except me. I was humiliated by Pramod on several occasions ... he treated me like dirt.'

Pravin seems to have resented his brother's success, wanted him to finance a glitzy lifestyle, and suffered from an inferiority complex.

The police have accepted this confession at face value. But some observers believe something very personal must have been the cause of Pravin's hatred.

'The family clearly does not want any dirty linen being washed in public and have been pulling strings to limit the investigations to the actual incident,' an article in Outlook magazine said.