It is not that sleaze has not existed in Indian political and public space before. This fact strikes at the core of the wave of remorse sweeping sections of Indian critical thought where fears have been raised that the Abhishek Manu Singhvi CD has raised apprehensions that “we might be reaching a low watershed in Indian politics”.
For the moment, let’s cast this Kolaveri aside and look at the bare skeletons of la affaire Singhvi. An angry sacked driver manages to lay his hand on a visual track allegedly showing his one-time boss in an obviously extra-marital dalliance.
So far there is no complainant except for Singhvi who managed to secure a court injunction preventing the broadcast and circulation of the CD alleging depicting him with an unnamed lady. Of the two characters, Singhvi says one of them is not he.
Whoever the two people in the CD are, there is so far no reason to believe that there was any non-consensual element in the exchange. There is also no evidence so far of the episode creating a domestic discord in the Singhvi household between the former Congress spokesperson and his ghazal singer wife, Anita Singhvi.
There is no charge against any of the three people involved in the creation and dissemination of the controversy – Singhvi (or the person whose face has been morphed with Singhvi’s), the lady and the driver. Charges can be brought by the police against anyone who forwards the images electronically to others – if the police consider the material to be pornographic.
Who is feeling outraged? Mainly, the people who have watched the video in community IPL-type screenings in offices or clandestinely at their homes. If people were so outraged, would it not be better if they stopped viewing the CD?
Sleaze has always existed – except that its form and speed of dissemination has changed dramatically due to technological advancement. Our seniors in the profession used to regale crowds with stories of various glamour girls of Indian Parliament during the Nehruvian era and how they would often flirtatiously banter with their male counterparts who included the estranged son-in-law of the Prime Minister.
Be it Nehru’s relationship with a certain Tantric or his daughter’s ties with a bearded yoga instructor who also claimed to be man of holy orientation, these tales have abounded for decades. But their circulation remained restricted to the word of mouth and a few scurrilous pieces of writing. The writing of Nehru’s secretary – MO Mathai – has been on the internet from the time google became part of everyday lexicon in India.
The pictures of Suresh Ram – Jagjivan Ram’s son – with a lady played a significant role in hastening the fall of the Janata Party government in the late 1970s. In the last decade several CDs of private acts of public figures have surfaced forcing them to retreat to their private worlds.
Earlier, these dalliances were either part of oral gossip or published in a sleaze press with either political motivation or commercial intent. Now circulation has become viral – driven due by voyeuristic instincts and due to the mystified nature of internet’s commerce. None of the two are indicative of decline in moral standards of people in public life. It only shows that despite being aware of the potentials of technological intrusion they remain as complacent as their predecessors.