If the media sheds its prudish self-censorship and tells people about the colourful lives of politicians, there is a very likely serendipitous consequence
In the wake of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s death, everybody who is somebody (and many a nobody) discussed endlessly the politics, poetry, oratory, etc., of the former prime minister. The media—print, electronic, and online—reported extensively about the minutest details of the departed leader’s life. Except, of course, about his personal life.
It can’t be because of the lack of interest in the personal lives of politicians that the media remains reticent; prurience is universal and it has a huge market
Public intellectuals and the media were following an age-old convention—of not discussing the private lives of political leaders. Sometime in the past, I don’t know exactly when, the press (it was only press that time) had decided to avoid describing the personal and private lives of our political masters, many of which are colourful, dramatic, even scandalous.
I have never been able to understand what stops journalists from discussing the private lives of politicians. In other democracies, every aspect of politicians’ lives is put in the limelight, including (often especially) their love affairs and sexual escapades. Monika Lewinsky, for instance, became a celebrity in her own right because of her dalliance with former US president Bill Clinton. Then there were reports about Russian President Vladimir Putin, a married man with two daughters, going around with the gymnast-turned-politician Alina Kabaeva. There were even rumours about the duo of having a love child.
It’s not that the flings of our netas are not well-known, especially after the advent of sting operations and widespread Internet use. A video of a very senior lawyer-politician of the Congress was uploaded on the Net. And who can forget N.D. Tiwari? Or the famous paternity suit that he lost? In fact, Tiwari is the Dev Anand of Indian politics—singing, like the evergreen star, the song Aasmaan ke neeche, hum aaj apne peechhe, pyar ka jehan banaate chale, kadam ke nishaan banaate chale. Evidently, Tiwari has left many nishaans behind that keep forensic scientists busy.
Needless to say, everybody would like to know more about the colorful lives of our politicians. A lot many of them don’t lead plain vanilla lives, the kind of lives people want to know about. It is the duty of the media to let them know—a duty in which it has failed miserably. And failed for years. Forget about reporting on escapades of politicians; journalists don’t even give many details about the openly bigamous politicians.
It can’t be because of the lack of interest in the personal lives of politicians that the media remains reticent; prurience is universal and it has a huge market. In the West, tabloids thrive of prurience. So, why not in India? (It may be argued that, in a broad sense, the entire media in our country has been tabloidized but that’s another story. It still doesn’t answer the question: why does it, spare politicians?).
Surely India should know everything about the politician; indeed it should know everything about the family members, relatives, friends, girlfriends, etc., of politicians who influence decision making.
It can’t be that all journalists in our country respect privacy. The Niira Radia tapes proved that the idea of privacy enjoys zero sanctity in India: for hours with no end a lady’s phone is tapped, then it is leaked to the media and many publications duly publish it. A large number of people see their reputations smeared. For what purpose? Nobody knows. Did Radia commit such a horrible crime that her privacy was savaged? Did others do? If journalists don’t hesitate in destroying the privacy of their own colleagues in the profession, why are they reluctant to intrude into the private lives of politicians?
Further, do politicians return the favour? It is an open secret that journalists’ phones, as those of other citizens’, are routinely tapped. The political class doesn’t care two hoots for the privacy of citizens. The government opposed it in the Supreme Court in the privacy case. In the judgment, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud wrote that the Attorney General had submitted that “there is no general or fundamental right to privacy under the Constitution.” Justice S.A. Bobde also wrote that “the Union of India, through its AG, raised the objection that Indians could claim no constitutional right of privacy.”
But Indian journalists have remained slavish in their attitude towards politicians at least when it comes to reporting about the private lives of the latter. Surely India should know everything; indeed it should know everything about the family members, relatives, friends, girlfriends, etc., of politicians who influence decision making.
If the media sheds its prudish self-censorship and tells people about the colorful lives of politicians, there is a very likely serendipitous consequence: netas would become less sanctimonious and priggish.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.