Sunday, December 27, 2009

ND TIWARI: MUCH MORE THAN A SEX SCANDAL

Narayan Dutt Tiwari, one of the old war horses of the Congress, has finally been sent to the stables, horseshoes removed. At the ripe old age of 86, he has revealed a streak that tells the world that the land of Kamasutra has not lost its vigour and more behind closed doors. But, more than that, he has reopened the debate on whether private lives of politicians should be open to scrutiny.

For decades there has been an unspoken understanding between the media and politicians that their private lives will not be hung out in the open for all to see. The standard argument is that what they do in their bedrooms is nobody's business. No one can fault this line about privacy. Indians are largely indifferent to this aspect of the demeanour of India's politicians since nothing really damaging about them has ever been revealed by mainstream media. But all that may change now, thanks to a Telugu TV channel, ABN Andhra Jyothi.

ND Tiwari's romps with prostitutes - a thrice a day routine, according to some - in the Raj Bhavan has graphically highlighted that the media has failed to perform an important national duty. A man who has been a cabinet minister in the Central government, Chief Minister thrice and now Governor, has been doing this and more for decades. Why did the media not expose him for so long? Why did his colleagues in the Congress, as well as politicians from other parties, overlook this streak in him?

Do our law makers not have an obligation to abide by the laws they frame and expect all Indians to follow or face punishment? If Raj Bhavans and other government bungalows are being openly used by politicians to entertain themselves and their friends with call girls and social birds, then why should the media carry out sting operations to round up the latter up only when they are plying the same trade with ordinary Indians elsewhere? How can the real breaking news remain no news and the insignificant news be routinely treated as breaking?

Let us take the case of Tiwari. Firstly, it is impossible that he would have paid for his daily 'exercises' from his own pocket. All expenses would have been 'adjusted' under some head or the other of the tax payer's money. Second, it is a given that as CM and Union Finance Minister, he must have been provided with - even demanded - top-quality call girls by business houses, contractors etc to get undue favours out of him. Third, it is very likely that on more than one occasion in life, he would even have been blackmailed into taking important decisions against his better judgment and the interest of the state. In short, probity was an immediate casualty. And remained so for many decades.

I am not willing to believe that the media is innocently unaware of these and even more far-reaching ramifications of private lives of political leaders. Yet, it chooses to look the other way. Why? Is it because they are all naked in the same hamam? Is it because the media wants to, in the case of politicians alone, go by a value system that some leading media stars personally live by? Why is it that, along this dimension, they do not blindly ape standards set by the US?

Permissive Americans are surprisingly moral when it comes to their leaders. The reason, as we all know, is straightforward. They expect those who lead their nation to possess the strength of character that they believe is required for the job. A man who breaks the trust of his wife cannot be trusted to not break that of America. It is not about sex. That is one reason why the brilliant Bill Clinton nearly got impeached. That is why so many Presidential candidates have withdrawn from the race in the past when a girl friend or mistress has been discovered. We are not even talking prostitutes.

ND Tiwari is not the only politician who has been breaking the trust of India's people. There are many others. The fact that India's media has continued to shield them while conning the nation with the fodder of stings in dance bars and other seedy places, is something that is equally, if not more, disturbing than than the acts of politicians.

The speed with which Tiwari has resigned and the manner in which the Congress has quickly taken the high moral ground, after a half-century of being in his bed, should leave no one in any doubt about the kind of behaviour that is expected by India from its leaders. Had it been otherwise, everyone would have claimed that Tiwari's sleeping with three girls is not India's business!

But, despite Tiwari quitting swiftly, is anything likely to change? Barkha Dutt sees ND Tiwari only as 'a sick sexual deviant'. Rajdeep Sardesai is actually thrilled that Tiwari has proved that 'life begins at 85!' More importantly, Dutt continues to see this as only a sex scandal, questioning still whether mainstream media should cover it. Sardesai admits that Tiwari's predilections were known for long but claims that 'so long as it didn't affect his public duties, it wasn't an issue'!

Who are we kidding? Is it ever possible to so surgically separate the public from the private? Is history not replete with instances of sex being used as an extremely powerful strategic, political and business weapon, often to settle near-intractable issues coercively? Given how corrupt India's political leaders are - Shekhar Gupta calls them plunderers - are we to swallow the manifestly dishonest line that they have kept their sexual escapades away from their public duties and decision-making? Are we to shut ourselves to the clear and present danger of such behaviour carrying within it the seed of disaster along any number of dimensions?

God knows what price India has already paid because of this indulgent looking away. There will undoubtedly be much more to pay if things continue this way. It is time for the media to wake up, shed its blinkers and start looking at the private lives of netas from, among other things, a national interest and security perspective. This is not something that can be frivolously dismissed as just a sex scandal or a personal matter. The private faces of politicians need to be scrutinised in great detail and compared with their public ones. Unless that is done, it will not be possible to ensure that a mismatch between the two does not lead to serious consequences for the nation.