Pubdate: Sun, 11 Jun 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Author: Amrit Dhillon
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


A charismatic politician, touted as a future prime minister, is 
gunned down by his brother in a jealous rage.

On the way to immerse the leader's ashes in a sacred river, his 
playboy son stops at a party where he and a friend snort cocaine and 
heroin. The cocktail kills the friend and leaves the playboy facing a 
lengthy jail term.

It sounds like the stuff of Bollywood, but this is the real-life fall 
from grace of Rahal Mahajan, the 31-year-old son of the late Pramod 
Mahajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India's leading opposition group.

While his father's murder last month was in many ways the staple fare 
of India's turbulent political scene, his own hedonistic private life 
has exposed the burgeoning drug abuse among the country's young elite.

Commonly known as "namak", the Hindi term for salt, cocaine use has 
been a popular but highly secret indulgence among businessmen, 
Bollywood stars and the idle offspring of the rich.

It took the death of Mr Mahajan's friend Bibek Moitra, after a party 
in New Delhi, to expose the extent to which it has grown along with 
the country's increasing affluence. Mr Moitra, 39, was also Pramod 
Mahajan's former secretary.

Rahal Mahajan, whose uncle allegedly gunned down his father in a 
family feud, was discharged from hospital on Tuesday after spending 
several days in intensive care.

He was then arrested and now faces prosecution for illegally 
possessing and distributing drugs, an offence which can carry up to 
10 years in jail.

His extravagant lifestyle appears typical of a new generation of 
wealthy young in India: he dabbled in film-making and a few other 
careers, and developed a taste for drugs.

The disapproving Indian media have speculated that many wealthy drug 
users believe that family connections will save them.

"The rich won't stop because they don't fear the law. They can pull 
strings," said Suhel Seth, an advertising executive. "We need to 
enforce strict penalties and make examples of some people to deter others."

Last week, Apollo hospital stated that no drugs had been found in Mr 
Mahajan's blood sample, only to backtrack when independent tests 
proved otherwise. Police are investigating whether the hospital tried 
to protect Mr Mahajan.

The Bombay film director, Vinta Nanda, says that cocaine snorting is 
routine on the city's cocktail circuit. "It's everywhere. Everyone is doing it.

It's at every party. People think it's fashionable and trendy," she 
said. Cocaine, at 6,000 rupees (UKP80) a gram, and ecstasy are the 
drugs of choice.

For traditionalists, the combination of increased drug use and 
greater sexual promiscuity is yet another sign that India is sinking 
into "Western debauchery".

Many fear for the future of the country's biggest asset - its large 
population of educated young adults, for whom new jobs in India's 
booming IT sector have brought undreamt-of wealth.

"Society is losing its cultural moorings as external influences 
intrude. Drugs have greater social acceptability than before, and 
parental authority over the young is weakening," said Samir Parekh, a 
psychiatrist at Max Healthcare hospital in New Delhi.

In the farmhouses of the rich on the outskirts of Delhi, weekend 
parties typically start with heavy drinking and good food. Later in 
the evening, a dealer will be contacted by telephone and code words 
used to order "namak".

"After snorting it, everyone is energised, lively, exuberant," said 
Rati Kapoor, a wealthy student who is a regular on the party circuit.

"Then people start pulling the chairs and tables back and dancing. 
The cocaine injects a new lease of life and it goes on till 3 or 4 
am." Drugs were also leading to a loosening of morals in other areas, 
Miss Kapoor added.

Many of those who indulged at parties would then disappear for casual 
sex - something unheard of among previous generations.

But, while publicity surrounding the case may have uncovered a hidden 
world, it seems to have done nothing to curtail it. Last week Bombay 
police seized a 200kg consignment of cocaine at the city's port - 
Asia's largest single drug haul.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman