Protected sex in high places

Protected sex in high places


Isn’t it funny that no one was turned on for long when it was revealed that, at 86, Narayan Dutt Tiwari was turning himself on? With what? Gosh, three women! Isn’t it funny that we didn’t salivate watching - in the absence of the streaming flicks - the still pictures on a private television channel and youtube? Why is it that Indians do not love sex? Especially sex in high places?

We are suddenly awake, appalled and outraged when a former top cop is let off lightly by the law for his lecherous ways that drove a 14-year-old kid to take her own life. But there was no uproar when the story of a tawdry scandal was brought to our living rooms and bedrooms: a governor of a state making it out with - wow! - three women. This is the stuff that cheap porn flicks are made of, a source of titillation, with the man at the centre of it all a butt of lewd and ribald jokes. And yet the down-and-dirty possibilities of the case did not tease, among other things, the country’s imagination. The story, that a hallowed institution had been besmirched by the peccadilloes of a geriatric who, allegedly, has been a putative womaniser most of his public life, was forgotten.
Why have Indians been so cold (rather hypocritically?) to a subject that has universally appealed to people in the liberal west? What lies behind Indians' tolerant stand on a moral issue? If a politician occupying a constitutional position of authority can be tried for financial embezzlement, why should matters of moral turpitude be an inappropriate subject of public scrutiny?

Sexual misbehaviour
For centuries, Indians lived comfortably with polygamy and polyandry and the wayward ways of kings and sultans. Sexual misbehaviour and transgressions have not been uncommon among those in public life in post-Independent India. From Jawaharlal Nehru to other prime ministers to lesser political authorities and the powerful, cutting across party lines, age and social standing, there are tales galore of virile manhood, of sweaty nights - and afternoons - between the sheets and other forms of sexual deviations and perversions within and outside the official domain.
These fabled stories (or gossips?) have never seen the light of the day, only talked about in private parties and among journalists who have, strangely, found them distasteful and unfit for print and television. The concept and practice of “moral leadership”, the notion that personal morality is a key to a leader’s ability to lead which, in turn, is based on the belief that to mobilise and lead a nation one must be worthy of personal respect, never found favour with Indians before and long after Independence.

Behind this reticence perhaps is an assumption that a political personality’s private and public lives are separate, that he/she is entitled to the little pleasures of life that we - the people - enjoy, seek and contemplate too. The right to privacy is part of the ideological legacy classical liberalism has bequeathed to us. It could be argued that the Tiwari scandal, or for that matter the sexual transgressions of Indian politicians, cannot be seen as a subject of public scrutiny given that they are private affairs between consenting adults. But wait a second. Doesn't immoral behaviour of political leaders lead to citizen distrust of government and State institutions? This in turn should lead us to think is it possible for a Nehru or a Tiwari or those who brought to the public realm the likes of the Kusum Rais, the Kanti Singhs and sundry other women who have held and hold public office, to behave unethically in their personal lives while maintaining integrity in their public responsibilities?

Sex scandals, in which sexual activities (demonstrated or alleged) of public figures have been widely written about and broadcast, with an ensuing public discussion of these activities as “transgressions of certain values, norms, or moral codes”, have a long history in Anglo-American culture. Sex has destroyed the careers of some powerful politicians in western liberal societies. More recently, it was Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York, who spent tens of thousands of dollars on the services of a 22-year old prostitute.
Of course, there are some notable exceptions like John F Kennedy. And then there was William Jefferson Clinton who got away with it because the American people could not decide whether he was lying about an extramarital sexual relationship with a White House intern or whether, by “lying about sex”, he had brought on a grave constitutional crisis. In Clinton’s case, where the American public drew the line between public and private was influenced by a widespread  belief that his behaviour was not uncommon among those in public life, but merely unusual in having been made public.

That Tiwari’s denials were weak was testified by his overnight exit from Hyderabad’s Raj Bhavan which he had allegedly chosen to convert into some kind of a supplemental appropriation for satisfying his sex drive. At least in Clinton’s case, after the licentious details of the use of cigars and trouser stains went public and his lies were nailed, he was faced with the real prospect of impeachment.

No impeachment?
But look at Tiwari. Not only were his denials not convincing enough, he even suggested that the video clips were doctored, which they very well might have been. What about a thorough enquiry to get to the bottom of l’ffaire Tiwari? The Central government sought a report from the Andhra Pradesh administration, Tiwari was quietly asked to quit and there the matter rested. There was no demand for any impeachment, a cry that rang true for Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P D Dinakaran for his many alleged acts of corruption and misdemeanour. I wonder how the people of this country would have reacted if Tiwari was found  cavorting with women in the private environs of a Five Star hotel. But in his case, as in many of the cases that have gone unreported, stories of individual transgressions, hypocrisy and disloyalty were facilitated by their particular institutional environment.

In India, it might appear that politicians have largely been exempt from scrutiny for pursuing illicit sexual pleasures, evidently unafraid that a demand for accountability might lead to opprobrium. This might also be supported by the belief that as long as those private acts do not impinge upon the public, a fornication here or a deviant act there could be overlooked. What is also winked at are the sexual “sins” which reveal not any individual, normative disorder, but institutional pathologies and decay.

Lokayukta speaks
Former Supreme Court judge and Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde said the definition of “corruption” under the Prevention of Corruption Act included illegal gratification and other types of gratification, including sexual favours.
However, in case of the alleged indiscretions by N D Tiwari inside the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhavan, the courts cannot suo motu initiate action. It is for the investigating agencies to pursue the case, he said.

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