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Praveen dodges death by a ‘motive’ Prosecution plea flops

Mumbai, Dec. 18: Praveen Mahajan was not given the death sentence today because it is not known why he killed brother Pramod Mahajan.

Turned out in silk kurta-pyjamas, the 48-year-old showed no emotion when the sessions court handed him life imprisonment for the April 2006 murder of the powerful BJP leader.

The prosecution had pushed for death, arguing that this was a “rarest of rare case”. “The murder was premeditated and cold-blooded,” special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said in a 90-minute speech.

Praveen had transferred Rs 7.6 lakh into wife Sarangi’s account a few days before the murder, asked son Kapil to cut short his trip to Aurangabad and summoned his brother-in-law, which indicated his planning before the murder, Nikam said. He described Praveen’s attempt at “character assassination” of his brother as “depravity”.

But defence lawyer Harshad Ponda said the prosecution had failed to establish the motive. “There has to be a specific reason for death penalty. But the prosecution has failed to answer the million-dollar question. Hence, awarding death sentence in the absence of this vital information would be improper because if at some later stage some other information comes up, then life cannot be brought back,” Ponda said.

He also contested the “house trespass” charge, pointing out that Praveen was offered tea and allowed to sit inside the Mahajan residence before the shooting took place.

Additional sessions judge Srihari Davare handed Praveen life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 15,000 for murder. He was also awarded five years’ rigorous imprisonment and a Rs 5,000 fine for house trespass with the intention to murder.

Praveen fixed an intense gaze on the judge but remained impassive. Yesterday, he had waved to journalists and looked relaxed. He has hinted he could write a tell-all book from jail.

Sarangi, though, looked tense. Through the one-and-a-half-year trial, she has been seen chatting in court, especially with newspersons. But for the past two days, she has kept to herself.

There was silence in the packed fifth-floor courtroom when Judge Davare began reading out the sentence.

“Considering the balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and also considering the background of the family members of the victim, I accord full weightage to the mitigating circumstances and it is also considered that the offence in the case will not come in the category of rarest of rare cases. Therefore, the extreme penalty of death need not be inflictedů. Hence, the alternative punishment prescribed is life imprisonment.”

Sarangi, chosen by Pramod to be Praveen’s bride, said she was relieved at the life term as this opened the possibility of the sentence being lowered by an appeals court.

Her brother Prasad Pullewar said: “Now Sarangi has to do something for a livelihood. We are there to support her. She could take up a job, start a business or join politics. She has been an active RSS member and politics runs in the family, and so is an option.”

Nikam said the prosecution would consider appealing to enhance the punishment.

Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, brother-in-law of Pramod and Praveen, said: “It was the desire of Pramodji’s mother to see the person responsible for her dear son’s death punished. But my sympathies go to Praveen’s family, who have been suffering for no fault of theirs.” He was flanked by Pramod’s children, Rahul and Poonam, who too have joined the BJP. Poonam campaigned for the party in Gujarat.

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