Indranil Banerjie | The Revanna scandal isn’t about sex, but criminality

There is nothing new about politicians and sexual misconduct. The list is long and the accompanying outrage well documented. Recall how the world had gasped at the discovery of an episode involving a young intern in America’s White House and the then President of the United States.

Mercifully, most such cases are quickly forgotten. How many would remember the case of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with his housekeeper? The legendary Franklin D. Roosevelt is said to have had a mistress while John F. Kennedy was known to have had extra-marital affairs.

Sexual shenanigans in the United States started with its founding fathers and continues with the shameful lawsuits involving the previous US President.

India too has not been without its share of sex scandals involving politicians. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is said to have had a relationship with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of the last British Viceroy, although some historians have declared that it was entirely platonic. Many politicians, including at least one Prime Minister, have had questionable sexual relationships, but the Indian media has tended to be remarkably restrained on such issues.

Only when the evidence has been thrust into public view has the media reacted, as was with the sensational case of Congress stalwart Narain Dutt Tewari, a not particularly attractive individual, who was seen in bed with three women at one time. He was subsequently found to be the genetic parent on a young man, whom he refused to legitimise despite the evidence.

Several Indian politicians have literally been caught with their pants down. The list includes personages like Suresh Ram (son of Babu Jagjivan Ram), BJP leader Raghavji, the brilliant Congress leader Abhishek “Manu” Singhvi, one-time Rajasthan minister Mahipal Maderna, Dhruv Narayan Singh, the BSP’s Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi, Samajwadi minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati, former BJP MLA from Unnao Kuldeep Singh Sengar, and many more.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) counted 134 sitting Members of Parliament (21 MPs) and Legislative Assemblies (113 MLAs) who have cases related to crimes against women. The charges include gangrape, rape and murder, sexual harassment and so on.

The latest to join this dubious league is Karnataka’s 33-year-old Member of Parliament Prajwal Revanna, who belongs to the Janata Dal (Secular) and happens to be the grandson of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Mr Revanna has emerged as a satyr fond of ravaging women without their consent and would have got away with it had it not been for the leak of a pen drive containing an astonishing 3,000 or so explicit videos apparently shot by the member himself. The MP and his father

have also been accused of sexual harassment by a woman who worked as their cook. A police case has been registered against both father and son but the latter is said to have fled the country, and is believed to be in Germany.

The Prajwal Revanna case has acquired political overtones, coming as it does in the midst of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The Opposition has been circulating photographs showing the absconding offender with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and suggesting that this is typical of the kind of people the BJP supports. The Janata Dal (S) happens to be an electoral ally of the BJP in the state.

The public focus of the Revanna case is on its sexual aspect, the MP’s enormous appetite for coitus and unrestrained exploitation of vulnerable women. He is projected as a sex fiend with support from the country’s most powerful personage.

The focus on sex, unfortunately, detracts from the true and more serious aspect of the episode: its obvious criminality. Ironically, in India today, criminality is no longer considered as sensational as sexual misconduct.

The Revanna episode therefore is egregious not so much because of its sexual nature but because it suggests unrestrained and habitual delinquency that has continued with impunity over time. The core issue is that of a politician having forcible sex with women who are powerless to resist or speak up.

Sexual profligacy might be distasteful, but it is not abhorrent in itself as long as there is no element of force, brutality, harassment, blackmail or compulsion involved. Thus, for instance, the Nehru-Edwina relationship evokes no outrage since it was between two consenting adults and not something involving coercion or force.

The Revanna case is reflective of a much larger problem that is not debated as much as it ought to be, and that is the increasingly unrestrained power of the Indian political class. It is not a matter of one political party or another; it is a generic problem spread across the political spectrum. The average politician today considers himself to be a super citizen with super privileges, who can get away with virtually anything. That constitutes a huge and present danger.

It is unfortunate that criminality and the related problem of corruption of the political class per se does not cause any outrage in this country. Neither is it an election issue. Not surprisingly, both criminality and the power of the political class in India is growing.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) estimates that criminality in politics is rising. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 15 per cent candidates across political parties had declared criminal cases against them; this figure rose to 17 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and to 19 per cent in the 2019 elections. In the ongoing elections, in the third phase alone, 18 per cent out of 1,352 candidates have declared criminal cases against them; in the second and first phases, this figure was 21 and 16 per cent respectively.

The ADR observed: “This data clearly shows that political parties have no interest in reforming the electoral system and our democracy will continue to suffer at the hands of lawbreakers who become lawmakers.”

The Indian politician today is designated as a “dignitary” who goes around with armed guards, cars flashing red lights, pays no toll, gets free medical and other facilities and in some cases free club membership as well. Some clearly feel they are even entitled to free sex. Welcome to the criminal republic.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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