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Talk Point: Sex tapes have no impact on polls, unless they show crimes like murder or rape

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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?

Almost 40 years after Khushwant Singh published the sex images of Suresh Ram (son of Deputy PM Jagjivan Ram) in Maneka Gandhi’s publication ‘Surya’, we are still debating if sex tapes should be part of the political discourse.

The medium has changed from print to digital, from photo to video, but the minds and mindsets remain the same in every campaign. But before commenting on the right or wrong of such campaigns, let us get practical with the main question: Do consensual sex tapes of politicians influence election outcomes in India? My answer is no, they do not have any impact whatsoever, unless the photo/video has anything to do with any crime like a murder or a rape.

In fact, I am fully confident that even in the case of Jagjivan Ram, the pictures of his son had nothing much to do with his political downfall. He had left Indira Gandhi right after the Emergency, a step seen as a betrayal by most Congressmen, and became Deputy PM under Morarji Desai. Politically speaking, he was taken down by his Janata Party colleagues Raj Narayan and Charan Singh, using every trick in the trade (including the sex scandal).

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

Jignesh Mevani: lawyer and Dalit leader from Gujarat
Ashwini Kumar: poet, author, and professor at TISS Mumbai
Sanjay Hegde: senior advocate, Supreme Court
Shekhar Gupta: chairman and editor-in-chief, ThePrint

But the scandal itself was not the prime reason for his political downfall. If that was the case, then Rajiv Gandhi would not have declared three days’ national mourning after his death, and his daughter Meira Kumar would not have so successfully inherited his political and social legacy. Put simply, the scandal did hurt Babu Jagjivan Ram emotionally, but not electorally.

Now, should such sex tapes should be part of political discourse? My answer is another big no. Unless, as stated earlier, the expose has to do something with any crime like murder or rape. The personal life of any public person should remain personal. The political issues and questions should be argued with political answers. In the case of Hardik Patel, his political question on Patidars should be countered with a debate on reservation policy and its limitations. Hardik Patel having or not having sex with anyone has nothing to do with the debate on Patidar reservation. In fact, the Patidar issue and the sex video have nothing do to with any standing on morality or public cause whatsoever. They are as different as chalk and cheese, and unlikely to affect the debate on the issue at large.

Yashwant Deshmukh is a psephologist

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