Ministry of Sex Scandals


Ministry of Sex Scandals

Illustration: Akshita Monga

It has been an extraordinarily stimulating week for cable television. All of last week, channels in Karnataka aired snippets of a blurred-out figure thrusting away at awkward angles interspersed with shots of a government guesthouse’s ceiling and shelving. Prime-time viewing across TV-owning households in the state made up of footage of Excise Minister H.Y. Meti having sex with a younger woman.

Meti’s on-screen shenanigans had a strange effect on the beleaguered state. It has suffused Karnataka with a sense of relaxation. Nothing is more relaxing than a consensual sex scandal. At least we hope it was consensual. Some reports say that the woman in the video is a government employee who approached Meti looking to transfer her job to another area. After a series of statements and retractions, she has cut out the media and checked herself into the hospital with a stomach ache. In all of this, Karnataka has had the chance to take its mind off of things.

The truth is that India at large – like the people of Karnataka and like that man in the old Suki comic strip begging for a cabaret number – is just waiting for a nice sex scandal to distract us. Nothing like some casual sleaze to draw away the attention of those of us south of the Vindhyas, from the Cauvery water crisis, the unsurpassed money-laundering, and the terrible weather courtesy the aftershocks of Cyclone Vardah.

Americans, now’s the time to emulate us. A sex scandal don’t scandalise us. You may think we are such a conservative nation, but we never fire our politicians for sexual misconduct, like you did Anthony Weiner for his sext scandal, or homophobic senator Larry Craig’s attempt to solicit sex in a men’s bathroom. In dealing with the private lives of our public figures, we prefer instead to make jokes and focus on the juicy deets.

Ministers from Meti’s own Congress party – a group of people with more troubles than the average ATM queue – are traitorously more intrigued by the 71-year old’s virility and are even going so far as to wonder whether his drink was spiked with Viagra. One of older members allegedly remarked that Meti has given a new hope to their generation. Karnataka’s Education Minister, Basavaraj Rayareddy, who displayed his erudition earlier in the week when he asked the media to give Meti the benefit of the doubt, considering his advanced age and supposed lack of strength, has frantically backed away from the spotlight. Perhaps he regrets his ageist and ableist remarks.

All the embarrassed switching of channels during a kissing scene gives way to steady family-viewing when it comes to those blurry tapes.

Sex sells, and apparently so does news about sex scandals. Politics has had more than its fair share of these – from BJP ministers Lakshman Savdi and CC Patil watching smutty videos under the table at a parliamentary session, and Tanveer Sait, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education in Karnataka, lasciviously looking at pictures of Melania Trump while attending a public celebration (everyone after all goes to the office for a better internet connection). There’s also AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh’s implicating selfies with his girlfriend (which were later sanctified by marriage), which the New York Times hilariously and mistakenly reported as a display in support of Modi’s #SelfiewithDaughter campaign.

Sex may be a topic that parents will never talk about directly – and our biology teacher will probably have skipped right over it in tenth standard – but it’s a topic we have no problem going to press about. We’re oddly comfortable watching our actors more-than-just-suggestively gyrating on screen, and our politicians having mad romps, our newspapers covering it all ad nauseam. It’s like all our pent-up, unsanctioned desires to talk about sex find an airing the minute a scandal breaks. All the embarrassed switching of channels during a kissing scene gives way to steady family-viewing when it comes to those blurry tapes. Why do we duck sex in our private lives and celebrate it in the public?

One reason could be that the public personae of our celebrities aren’t quite real to us. They exist as distant, celluloid creatures devoid of the pressures, demands, and restrictions that apply to us mere mortals. But I think when it comes to politics, it’s not only this power-distance index – it is peppered by a distinct pleasure as we watch the tribe we consider the ultimate vermin, squirm and squeal in the public eye.

Let’s be honest. While we are envious of our film stars, we don’t really like our politicians. Yes, the same ones we elect. No matter which part of India they hail from, we have decided that they’re lazy, self-serving, underworked, and over-bribed creatures who, instead of making our lives better, have made them much worse. The actions or inactions of our political class have a direct impact on the quality of our lives and we cannot forgive them that. Unlike folks in the USA who are invested in their representatives at a personal level, and to whom, the representatives are accountable, no such contract exists between our leaders and us. Most of them are unknown to us, until, of course, they present us with a sex or corruption scandal, which then becomes an opportunity for us to clap our hands and sit back and enjoy the show.

And it’s just that – a show, a tamasha. Because no concrete action ever comes to pass. This inaction is also, like our indifference, built into the contract. In the US, presidents can be impeached, careers can be wiped out. Representatives directly implicated in sex scandals, or those within sniffing distance of it, resign for ethical reasons. But in our neck of the woods, this doesn’t happen.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s political career came to a screeching halt when he had to resign after his driver filmed the married man having sex with some other woman in his office. Or so we thought. But the ruckus was happily forgotten when a different scam came to light, with the court ruling against his income tax fraud. His website shows that his life has remained largely unaffected, displaying an array of photographs of him meeting everybody from Barack Obama to Manmohan Singh. It even has a tab boasting about his “forlorn achievements” (his words not ours). Presumably, the most major change in his lifestyle is that he takes cabs to work now.

Sex scandals in India are chewed over in three-second snippets, until it’s like bubblegum in the mouth of the most assiduous six-year-old: To be enjoyed while the flavour lasts and then immediately spat out when new gum beckons.

The politician will temporarily dip into anonymity to avoid their new-found notoriety and eventually resume their lives unscathed. H.Y. Meti has since stepped down from his post for the crime of perhaps getting it on for the camera. This came within hours of the video being released; a face-saving exercise after Meti denied the existence of the tape and later challenged the RTI activist who reported it to furnish the imaginary recording. We’re fairly confident he will be back soon.