India Today - - COVER STORY -

sur­faced, he ad­mit­ted the truth. He told the CBI that while he had an af­fair with Bhan­wri, he was not in­volved in her dis­ap­pear­ance. “Hav­ing an af­fair with some­one and mak­ing a CD with them is not a crime,” said wife Leela Maderna, as she stepped out af­ter CBI in­ter­ro­ga­tion on Novem­ber 11. Her de­signer glasses cov­ered her real emo­tions.

Not sur­pris­ingly, on Novem­ber 14, the Jodh­pur bench of the Ra­jasthan High Court pulled up the CBI for be­ing tardy in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “The CBI asked for four weeks but the court gave them 10 days to in­form it about Bhan­wri’s where­abouts,” says Anand Puro­hit, additional ad­vo­cate gen­eral, Jodh­pur. He adds, “Till to­day, there is no ev­i­dence of mur­der. The po­lice is co­op­er­at­ing with the CBI.” The court has also warned the CBI not to let this be­come an­other un­solved case like the Arushi Tal­war mur­der in Noida.the CBI has in­ter­ro­gated Maderna twice, and Malkhan thrice. Dur­ing the in­ter­ro­ga­tion, they even made the two con­front each other since Maderna had claimed that it was Malkhan who in­tro­duced Bhan­wri to him. At first Malkhan de­nied this; he later ad­mit­ted to it.

Malkhan’s sis­ter Indira Bish­noi, Bhan­wri’s con­fi­dante, has claimed on Novem­ber 7 that Bhan­wri had met Gehlot some­time last year and told him about the CD im­pli­cat­ing Maderna. Gehlot has never cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied it. “I meet many peo­ple. I can’t re­mem­ber who met me and who did not. But Bhan­wri Devi in­form­ing me about the video tape with Maderna is news to me,” he re­acted.

Lo­cal Congress work­ers claim that dur­ing the ini­tial six months af­ter Gehlot took over as Chief Min­is­ter in De­cem­ber 2008, Maderna lost no op­por­tu­nity to op­pose the Chief Min­is­ter. But a year later, there was a sud­den change and Maderna be­came com­pli­ant. “Per­haps Gehlot was hold­ing the threat of the CD over him,” says a Congress leg­is­la­tor try­ing to piece to­gether a puz­zle that con­tin­ues to con­found the Ra­jasthan Po­lice as well as the CBI.

It was some­time in 2003 that Malkhan in­tro­duced Bhan­wri to Maderna when she wanted a trans­fer for a friend. It was the lure of po­lit­i­cal favours that tempted the aux­il­iary nurse to more dan­ger­ous pas­tures. There are whis­pers that Bhan­wri had other li­aisons but apart from Maderna

and Malkhan, no other names have come to light. Chand says he knew of only these two: “A wo­man does not tell her hus­band these things. I sus­pected that she had such re­la­tions with these two (Malkhan and Maderna) from her phone calls.”

There are al­le­ga­tions that one of her chil­dren was ac­tu­ally Malkhan’s and that Bhan­wri was keen on a DNA test. “Bac­che mere hain. Yeh mai khud

kah sakta hun (The chil­dren are mine. I am say­ing it),” says Chand. This has not stopped the ru­mour mills. A lo­cal busi­ness­man claims that dur­ing the wed­ding of Malkhan’s daugh­ter, Bhan­wri cre­ated a scene at the venue, de­mand­ing that one of her daugh­ters, whom she in­sisted was Malkhan’s child, should get equal due. If lo­cal gos­sip is to be be­lieved, there were many such scenes, one tak­ing place at a Hero Honda show­room in Jodh­pur owned by Malkhan some­time last year. “Bhan­wri and Malkhan were known to be a cou­ple. Maderna and Bhan­wri were never seen in pub­lic to­gether,” says a lo­cal busi­ness­man.

Bhan­wri’s house in Ba­raunda re­flects a hap­haz­ard in­flux of money. There is a fridge in the court­yard with a small tele­vi­sion perched on top of it. Op­po­site the fridge is a matka (earthen pot used for cool­ing water). The kitchen has steel uten­sils but there is a wash­ing ma­chine that is placed out­side the bath­room. A tread­mill has also found its way to this dusty vil­lage sur­rounded by fields of ba­jra. An old-fash­ioned tran­sis­tor lies by her bed­side. “She liked dress­ing up,” says Chand with a smile as he re­calls one of his wife’s less painful in­dul­gences. In the FIR, too, he wrote that she left home in a “brown de­signer sari”.

The Bhan­wri shock­waves have reached Delhi. Even be­fore the CD was aired, Gehlot had rushed to the cap­i­tal at least thrice in the space of three weeks. He met Congress Pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi twice. “He has been given one last chance,” says a Congress


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