It is strange how while in the West the leaders are kicked out of public life at a whiff of a scandal, in India no one seems to bother about them at all. Having another woman is one’s life is accepted here without much ado. Is it because we have become cynical and uncaring? Or is it because it isn’t such a big deal? Does this give today’s Indian male the right to have ‘another woman’? Ketan Tanna finds out.
When Lata Mangheshkar in the 1960’s, rendered the intricate, yet beautiful, classical song O, sajna barkha bahar aayee, ras ki phuar lai for the movie parakh, it would have been anybody’s wildest imagination that one day, 30 years later, the song would be remembered in the wrong context and for the wrong reasons in the state of Maharashtra.
Life for Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Gopinath Munde, in the last one month known for his anti-Sharad Pawar campaign during the days of Pawar’s Chief Ministership, the Deputy Chief Minister of late has been reduced to giving explanations hotly denying his alleged involvement with stunning, middle0aged “tamasha” (traditional Maharashtra dance, still prevails in villages) dancer called Barkha. Last fortnight, a group of stage artists who had the nerve to coo the Parakh song impromptu at an official function where Munde was chief guest were jailed for their cheeky behaviour.
“I am not involved with Barkha. This is a malicious campaign against me by my detractors. I have clean private life and let me tell you that I believe in the concept that a person holding a public office should essentially have a clean private life as well because eventually private life also reflects on the public life of that person or politician,” Gopinath Munde sniffed to this correspondent.
Munde who is married to BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan’s sister should know what he is talking about. His roots originate from Rashtriyaa Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which to put it mildly has a strict code of adherence to a clean private life especially for persons who hold public office.
“As per our Hindu tradition the private life of a public person should be like an open book. A person’s private and public life are two sides of the same coin. A person’s life cannot be bifurcated and segmented,” agreed senior RSS and BJP leader Madhu Deolekar when asked whether a public person’s private life mattered so long as he did not compromise on his public duty.
Veteran public figure and respected economist Nani Palkhivala could not agree more. “A man should have a clean private life and clean image to carry conviction to people particularly in a country like India. I would rather deal with a man who is likely to be more responsible to public at large, feels Palkhivala.
Yet, does the private life of any person holding public office influence his ability to discharge his duty efficiently? More to the point, does any one need to know about a politician’s life so long as he is not wanting in his duty?
Nehru’s alleged liaison Edwina Mountbatten made little news while he was alive. And when it found mention in books, nobody really cared. Not even, when it found mention in books nobody really cared. Not even, when serious allegations surfaced about Edwina influencing Nehru on various critical decisions that had to be taken during and after partition.
The Indian electorate chose to ignore what they felt were mere institutions with little substance. Neither during Nehru’s life-time nor during his daughter’s life-time, had their personal lifestyle made any difference to them as far their public life was concerned.
Yet, abroad, many careers have been ruined because of the peccadilloes of politicians who while in public did not ensure that they appeared to be as pure as driven snow. Gary Hart had to call it a day in public life when his alleged liaison with Donna Rice became public knowledge during the American Presidential elections. The recent revelations in Britain about the alleged homosexual relation of the British Minister with the youngster could not have come at a worse time for John Major with general elections round the corner.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, despite his glad eye was lucky to get re-elected. Yet, the fact that his close personal assistant had to bid adieu for having indiscreet “fun” while being on work is a case in point. And though, Clinton might have won the elections and is enjoying his last term in office, he is still facing a lawsuit filed for his indiscretion when he was Governor of Arkansas.
Comparatively, the Indian politician has been far more blasÃ© about his private life. Rarely has any politician suffered because of his sexual proclivities. Neither has the torrid private life of any politician stopped him from lecturing the public at large on morality and the need for “hum do hamare do”
In recent history, the only person who has been dragged to court for his indiscretion in private life was not a politician but the former Punjab super-cop, K. P. S. Gill.
The Indian media has also been cagey about writing about the politician’s private life. Occasional stories like Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s two wives appear with the focus on the “oh-so-sad” condition of the first wife is a god-forsaken village juxtaposed with lovey-dovey pose of the second wife resplendent with sindoor, et al with the minister. Yet, such stories or exposes in India have not prevented the concerned ministers from wining consecutive elections and sometimes with record margins.
Despite occasional reports, the overall coverage on the private life of a politician has not been talked about in an extensive manner. Stories have appeared, but with a long time gap. This is not to say that the politicians in India especially those who have held public office turned into saints once they assumed office.
Take the case of Tamil Nadu where history can be divided into two phases. The first one was co-terminus with the freedom movement and after independence continued as “desiyam” or Indian nationalism. This stream stressed on monogamy and celibacy was extolled. The prime example was K. Kamaraj, a celibate and a quintessential Gandhian, denying himself every comfort including marriage.
The emergence of “Dravidam” of the Dravidian phase and its later avatars were predominantly socio-cultural in orientation. The successors of the Dravidian movement, the DMK drew its strength from the world of theatre and films. The leading lights of the DMK like C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, and MGR were either screenplay writers or matinee idols. Some of them were quite open about their private lifestyle but were not censured about it. In the male dominated Tamilian, society having more than one wife was a sign of manhood.
The status of women in Tamil films (not that films elsewhere in India are any better) is that of a slave to men and marriage and institution. The last three successive Chief Ministers in the State have never hidden their private life. To be fair, unlike other Indian politicians, leaders in Tamil Nadu like the late MGR or even Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi have not hidden their private life even if it did not conform strictly morality standards of the society.
In stark contrast to Tamil Nadu, the private life of politicians in other states has always been underplayed and rarely have they been an issue in any election. In Karnataka, despite public knowledge, reports on politicians and their extra-marital affairs have rarely appeared in the news. The recent public confession of Chief Minister J.H. Patel about his fondness for wine and women is the only possible admission, which has become a near folklore in the media.
In Andhra Pradesh, the scene is somewhat different. Not only did the late Chief Minister N. T. Ramarao manage to win elections despite marrying Lakshmi Parvathi in his seventies but he also won approval from the women-folk of the State who overwhelmingly voted for him. The other “celebrated affair” that came to light was the alleged involvement of the former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao with Mrs. Laxmikantamma when he was the Chief Minister of that State. A former Chief Minister, J. Vengal Rao in his autobiography revealed that the eldest son of the pouting Rao went pleading to Mrs. Indira Gandhi to show his father the right path.
The scenario in the neighbouring State of Rajasthan and Gujarat is no different. In Rajasthan, books like Rajasthan keep vish kanyayen by a former college lecturer contained detailed information on the private life of politicians. Various allegations against senior politicians have also surfaced regularly albeit without any proof.
In Gujarat, the traditional land of Krishna, many State politicians have shown little hesitation in having a dubious private life and side by side appearing saint-like in the land of the Mahatma. Naturally, with the common man knowing little about the shenanigans of those who he votes faithfully, is in time that media should try to focus on the private life of politicians? Equally, he does the media have the right to be keepers and the guardians of morality?
“It all depends on the viewpoint. People like me feel that character is important a large. Media reporting on a public person’s private life should be within bound of decency should serve public interest “feels Nani Palkhivala. On the other hand, veteran BJP leader Deolekar while stressing that “vivek bhrastna bhavti adha path satmakhui” (men who have erred in good behaviour will fall) says that Press should be responsible, objective and should report on a public person’s private life with proof.
Equally, People like B.G.Deshmukh who has worked with politicians of different hues, feels that a politician’s sexual life is of importance only if that person is being blackmailed or when the public person’s private life is likely to affect his public duty. “After criminalisation of politics, things have changed. Yet, I feel that any aspect of a politician’s private life should be reported only if it impinges on his public life,” says Deshmukh.
Whatever the differing perceptions, it is relevant to note the stark contrast in attitudes of Indians and Americans towards the private life of their leaders. While the average American on the street would excuse a fellow common man of any kind of peccadilloes, his insistence on his leader having a clean life cost many a politician dear.
As for Indians, the common man on the street is still not very bothered about the private life of his leader but he insists that his fellow comrade should have a squeaky clean life. No wonder, Sena supreme Bal Thackeray while defending Munde’s alleged liaison with Barkha nonchalantly quipped “pyar kiya to darna kya”?
By Ketan Narottam Tanna