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Talk Point: Hardik Patel should take heart, porn as political weapon always fails

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Two intimate video clips featuring Gujarat’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel with a woman, and holding a drink in his hand, are being widely shared on social media this week. The emergence of the videos in the middle of a heated election campaign raises questions about privacy, public image, defamation, and political morality. Patel has called it a sign of dirty politics, an invasion of his privacy, and “character assassination”.

Should sex tapes of politicians be part of political discourse and can they influence election outcomes in India?

Political porn, as a strategic weapon, was first unveiled in Indian politics by Maneka Gandhi. In 1978, Surya magazine, which she edited, carried a multi-page spread of explicit (what in the world of pornography would be called XXX-rated) pictures of Suresh Ram, son of Babu Jagjivan Ram, with a young woman.

The pictures caused much titillation and a political furore. For many in our generation, it was our first exposure to sexual pictures so explicit. Both the man and the woman seemed aware they were being photographed—they were most likely posing.

Camera technology was very primitive then, so there was much speculation over whether they were setting the usual box cameras on auto exposure, or if there was a third person with the camera. It was, therefore, some kind of extreme self-voyeurism that went wrong. Obviously somebody from the Ram household leaked these to a Congress Deep Throat.

Jagjivan Ram was then a leading light of the Janata Party and its leading Dalit face—he had broken away from Indira Gandhi earlier to set up his Congress For Democracy (CFD). Maneka’s husband Sanjay controlled the Congress Party. Babuji (as Jagjivan Ram was mostly called) was fair game.

This broke three old rules of Indian politics:

1. Don’t attack a rival’s non-political family member unless it is a corruption/misuse of power;
2. Don’t attack a rival’s personal life, and
3. Don’t hit below the belt like this.

Titillation and sensation apart, it failed as a political ploy. The Surya magazine issue sold big-time in the black market.

In more modern times when cameras (videos, not just still) can be fitted anywhere by amateurs, from watches to handbags to ceiling fans and lights, TV sets and wall hangings, and when anybody can use his/her phone to record even in indifferent light, there’s been many such.

There was Congress veteran Narayan Dutt Tiwari with  multiple women (in his Raj Bhawan bedroom, conveniently) and controversy, if any, was about how could the women get past Raj Bhawan security and protocol. More so, it was like, “kya baat Tiwari ji, so colourful at 84!”

Again, the political impact was negligible. Tiwari ji was no stranger to humiliation: remember his immortal picture carrying Sanjay Gandhi’s chappals? The opposition had used it in election posters with the doggerel:

Nar hoon na naari hoon (I am neither man nor woman)
Narayan Dutt Tiwari hoon (I am Narayan Dutt Tiwari)
Indira ka pujari hoon (I’m a worshiper of Indira)
Sanjay ki sawari hoon (I obediently carry Sanjay on my back)

Last heard, Tiwari ji had been rehabilitated in the BJP on the eve of the Uttarakhand elections.


Here are other sharp perspectives on the sex tapes and scandals influencing election outcomes:

Yashwant Deshmukh: psephologist
Jignesh Mevani: lawyer and Dalit leader from Gujarat
Ashwini Kumar: poet, author, and professor at TISS Mumbai
Sanjay Hegde: senior advocate, Supreme Court


There is more recent evidence that personal porn as a political tactic doesn’t work in India. A Chhattisgarh minister’s (consensual and explicit) sex CD surfaced recently. The guy sitting in jail for it is a journalist who had copies, while the minister is fine. Before that, in an ironic twist a generation apart, pictures (apparently) of Maneka’s son Varun Gandhi with a European woman, not much different from Suresh Ram’s, surfaced, but nobody bothered. And rightly so.

We Indians may be hypocrites about gender, sexuality, relationships, but we aren’t judgemental about sex between consenting adults, even if one of them is a public figure. No client has put Abhishek Manu Singhvi on the barred list, his phenomenal price for court appearances has not been affected, and he speaks for his party with the same authority as before.

The only instance of a public figure getting punished for being caught on camera was a AAP Delhi minister. There was no doubt again that it was a consenting situation, and that a dirty-tricks operation had outed him. But there was an allegation that the woman was probably a ration-card seeker, which would implicate the minister in the misuse of his position. And AAP is a new party, less thick-skinned than the older ones, and has a public posture laying much greater, almost puritanical store by morality.

Hardik Patel and his supporters should take heart from all this. It will blow over in a couple of days. And if more videos keep surfacing, they may not even go viral much.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. We Indians may be hypocrites about gender, sexuality, relationships, but we aren’t judgemental about sex between consenting adults, even if one of them is a public figure…Shekhar, this is not very clear.

  2. One thing that’s been proven is that BJP is afraid of these new leaders and is desperate to defame them. But BJP is quite safe I think. They shouldn’t have indulged in this kind of “dirty politics”

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