By Sanjay Jha
( Published in TEHELKA/ Financial World)
If Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) , the former managing director of IMF had read Lord Chesterfield’s poetry on sex (“ the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous , and the expense damnable” ) , he would still be in his chic Manhattan hotel contemplating French presidency. Instead, he is right now cooling heels in the impregnable Rikers Island for alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of a young thirty-two year old housekeeper. Joining the spiffy DSK is Anthony Weiner, US Congressman who committed Twittercide ( suicide on Twitter) for his kinky self-exhibitionism on public broadcast instead of his targeted object of virtual fantasy. Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has taken his lascivious predilections to a cinematic level. Welcome to the world of stealthy sexual predators in Brooks Brothers dapper suits.
Albeit DSK is behind bars and Weiner headed for political obscurity , it has brought to center-stage the habitual susceptibility of powerful people to clandestine affairs, weird passions and a desperate urge for instant gratification. Including with highly vulnerable chambermaids. But Kahn is hardly a conspicuous exception; the problem plagues many, hidden in dark closets. Ironically, Kahn’s past philandering ways were legendary, but were studiously ignored as frivolous dalliances . The French media feigned ignorance with skilful chicanery. The most convenient attribution is that men are biologically engineered to succumb to tight thongs. So if you are not in an extra-marital affair, it is a genetic deficiency. But when the Sofitel catastrophe blew up, their initial reaction was that of shock and awe. Really? .
The decline of the great American presidency began long before cowboy George Bush Jr said “Wanted Dead or Alive”. It commenced with the seductive charms of Mr Bill Clinton and his rather enlightening declaration that “I did not have sex with that woman”. On Mumbai’s busy traffic intersections , the US President’s raunchy joke books sold like hot bun-maska. The US for all its nuclear arsenals and sole superpower status became a universal object of ridicule. John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani ,Newt Gingrich , they were all appropriately asphyxiated from their political ambitions when their alliance paramours became public. Men are prone to many a slip between the belt and the trouser in a moment of weakness ( which occurs with effortless ease) but is usually self-inflicted. The other reason is that people in the higher echelons are made to feel more powerful than they really are in a celebrity-driven world , eulogized into illusions of infallibility.
Francois Mitterand, former French President had a mistress maintained at public exchequers expense. A garrulous taxi-driver in Chennai once pointed out to a large double –storey bungalow of a famous politician to me and said: “Tax- payer pays for his girl-friend”. Ordinarily, that should have been a massive scandal, where government subsidized private fornication. But obviously no one reported that “personal space”. The media has hummed and hawed, and let grass grow under their feet. It actually encourages further licentiousness from the erring cheats. We are egregiously self-righteous; if we hear queer sounds from behind bedroom doors we will put our ear to the key-hole.
Public figures must have zero-margin error rates in their social conduct because they affect society’s multiple-layers. The current corruption brouhaha in India manifests the catholic influence of personal perceptions of leading lights. Sexual immorality in our conservative , “cultured” society is more damaging to reputation than financial embezzlement. In the 1970’s Maneka Gandhi’s Surya magazine had caught former Congressman Jagjivan Ram’s son between his mistress and the mattress. In those days, when red roses shook violently in Bollywood to signify a French kiss, that was tantamount to sacrilege. While Surya vanished into the dark sunset, Ram’s prime ministerial ambitions were rudely nipped in the bud. Even in a liberal society like the US everyone becomes extremely pious come presidential nominations. You don’t want a role model who is a bed-hopper.
We are being fairly jejune in believing that just because we have Sheila-Amma-Maya-Mamata as chief ministers , Mrs Pratibha Patil as President and Mrs Sonia Gandhi at 10, Janpath that women’s emancipation and growth is on the cards. Far from it. In Mayawati’s backyard, the repugnant rape and killing of a 14 year old by state officers happened in broad-daylight. In corporate offices, sexual harassment is commonplace but never talked about. Job insecurity, future prospects, fear of revenge attacks, inadequate legal framework, lop-sided media intervention and likely social stigma prevents free verbal expression of personal humiliation. In effect, it encourages further bad behavior from the scurvy rat. We compound a problem by pretending it is inconsequential given “ prevalent systems”. The predator’s tentacles expand. But as France has shown, encouraged by the wronged chambermaid’s intrepid prompt disclosure , women’s associations have taken to the streets demanding greater transparency ,saying “ we are all chambermaids”. The Slut-walk is symbolic of the new-found momentum.
Amar Singh’s rather lurid intimate dialogue with dusky Bipasha Basu and party colleague Jayaprada, ND Tiwari’s novel experimentation in the Governor’s official bungalow were only cursorily mentioned in the breaking news obsessed TV channels. The Indian media blushes crimson when addressing issues tinged with titillation. A former Prime Minister was rumoredly in a live-in relationship , but nobody reported that cozy arrangement. It is like Barack Obama having a secret lover and Fox News celebrating his abstinence instead. Vidya Charan Shukla of the Congress apparently went banging at the door of a famous actress, saying : You Vidya, me Vidya! It is obvious that many leaders have hour-glass shaped skeletons in their cupboard. It indeed must be seriously lonely at the top, hence the groping acts to address that melancholy state. But there is also this misplaced feeling of ownership, that the constituents under you are at your beck and call. The arrogance of power can assume deleterious proportions. DSK reflects that scourge.
We have created a sacrosanct ring around ourselves that inhibits /prohibits from reporting nocturnal trysts of well-known public figures. Or their dangerous liaisons. It is an unspoken, unwritten understanding amongst the elite crowd that liberates the amorous politician, suave industrialist , and super-star celebrities from public investigation. But this self-imposed embargo needs immediate reexamination Otherwise, in the long-run women will remain permanently exploited, treated with contemptuous disinterestedness instead of the respect they deserve. Worse, the freedom to err can take on more disturbing dimensions. The depressing figures on female infanticide , frequent crimes of passion, domestic abuse, eve-teasing and sexual harassment at work reflects our regressive attitude towards women.
The murky circumstances surrounding BJP leader Pramod Mahajan’s death, including several insinuations on his colorful life remains undocumented even as hushed whispers grew into a crescendo. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac, said Henry Kissinger. It can also be the ultimate self-destruct. Truth be said, but we are extremely squeamish when it comes to matters between the sheets; the Indian media actually practices abysmal double-standards and appears like a paranoid prude. “The protection of private life should not be a pretext for hiding entire sides to the personality of politicians who are candidates to leading the country” writes Pierre Haski , co-founder of Rue89, a popular news website in the Economist.
A cozy elite is ensconced in its debauchery , but the media becomes silent conspirators and licentiousness gets a comfort zone. Any surprise that India is the fourth most dangerous place for women in the world? It is time to stop pretending that our “ leaders” wear chastity belts. Since politics nowadays is driven by relentless 24×7 media surveillance, it is astounding that the ticklish subject of sex has not touched any of our holier-than-thou national icons. I think we need to rebalance our moral barometer. In an era of change and greater accountability, it is time to push the envelope further.
Sanjay Jha is co-Founder of HamaraCongress.com. He can be reached at Sanjay_Jha@DaleCarnegie.com