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February 3, 1998


Pritish Nandy

Roti, kapda, makan are the real issues. Not fellatio and cunnilingus

What is the most dangerous job in the White House today?

Giving the president an oral briefing.

Foxhunting is out. So is trainspotting. The in thing, this season, is crotchwatching in the White House.

The most powerful man in the world -- or so we are told -- Bill Clinton, six years into his Presidency and still retaining his otherwise remarkably high ratings as a smart, clever, politically savvy leader of the great American nation, suddenly finds his teflon peeling off. Simply because his constituency celebrates hypocrisy as its prime political virtue.

As great, unwashed, middle America -- the silent majority, in Nixon's memorable description -- spends its prime time debating on television whether fellatio is actually adultery or just another quirky massaging technique that does not compromise the marital integrity of the president of the United States, the real issue remains: Why are Americans so obsessed with sex that they will not allow their presidents to retain their shine the moment it is discovered (albeit happenstance) that they have dropped their pants before women they are not exactly married to?

They almost drove poor Jimmy Carter into dark oblivion simply because he confessed to lusting with his eyes at times -- in Playboy magazine, horror of horrors! Then, for almost a decade, they pilloried the Kennedys and took the lustre off the Camelot years, when the presidential residence rivalled the best little whorehouse in Texas. They rewrote their contemporary history to downsize the Great American Dream and make John F and his brother Robert F look like randy little pirates running around the corridors of power with their zippers down.

Americans actually believe, less than two years away from the millennium, that men who occupy the Oval Office (now, of course, more delightfully described as the Oral Office) must keep their flies buttoned down or their zippers firmly up -- depending on the styling in fashion -- whatever the provocation may be. They are not (repeat nor) allowed to have (and certainly, heavens forbid, enjoy) any sex with anyone except the person they entered the White House with, as their legally married housekeeper. Certainly not with actresses and 24-year-old interns yearning for the marquee.

That is why they are so busy arguing over whether President Clinton asked Monica Lewinsky to lie or simply lie down. It is no longer a sexist debate. It is a semantic one.

The American people, it appears, are ready to forgive their president if he asked the pretty intern to lie down and give him what is seen as morally non-compromising sex. Alias a blow job. But they are not ready to forgive him if he had actually asked her to lie about it later. On oath.

Luckily for us in India, we have no such qualms, no such moral dilemmas. The reason may be simply. Few of our politicians wear trousers in the first place. So there are no zippers, no flies, no arguments over who dropped what. The rest are rumours that they can be easily ignored. Till they conveniently die out.

The few who do wear pants in Indian politics -- like Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Phoolan Devi -- are for obvious reasons not vulnerable to such fears because they are surrounded by their hugely effected harem guards and sycophants on all fours, begging to be kicked around.

In any case, women in Indian politics are remarkably resilient. Nothing compromises them. Whether it is a much publicised career in crime and dacoity or a million corruption cases pending against them. Whether it is Bofors or Quattrocchi, they are safe as long as they have their grovelling sidekicks raising slogans, fixing elections, capturing booths and misusing they state machinery in the name of democracy, secularism and social justice. They can always redesign, restyle, rediscover their past in the light of what is currently most fashionable, most acceptable in politics.

That is why, despite the entreaties of the Election Commission, we see their remarkable array of rogues, thieves, cheats and plug-uglies queuing up to beseech us for our votes. If they win, this is, of course, the last time they will beseech us for anything. They will then move on to their areas of core competence.

Robbery, thieving, murder, looting, cheating the nation. Switching parties. All those wonderful things that our leaders are today famous for. Irrespective of the party they stand for. Irrespective of the values they claim to represent. For beliefs, ideology, election manifestoes are all passing phases. What endures is corruption, crime, violence. Once our leaders are voted to power, they all become the same. Crocks and criminals. Cheats and scoundrels.

This is the problem with democracy. Flotsam rises to the top. And it happens in both the world's largest democracies. It is only the public reaction that differs. In poor India, we forget easily. We forgive easily. We do not like lynching our leaders even if they commit the most shameless crimes. We make fun of them and then move on to other issues. Issues like roti, kapda, makaan. We have no choice because these are the real issues before the nation. Not fellatio and cunnilingus.

But in flashy America, it is different. The world's largest democracy likes to exorcise its ghosts by taking sinning seriously. So you can do anything you want in the name of lobbying, as indeed Vernon Jordan did as Clinton's best friend -- exactly what Ottavio Quattrocchi did for Rajiv Gandhi -- but the moment he tried to defend Clinton against the Lewinsky charges, he is trapped in the crosshairs of political marksmen. Dead, you could say, for the crime of defending a sinner. Not for being the smartest, canniest deal-maker in the United States who lobbied for every cause that was not exactly defensible and almost invariably won.

Gennifer Flowers must be amused. Paula Jones too. If his biographer David Maraniss is to be believed, Clinton cheated on Hillary even before they were married. But that does not worry anyone. That never shook the nation. It is only when he hit at pretty interns in the Oval Office that regicidal rage took over. How could the president of the United States unzip his trousers for a callow 24 year old who could not make out the difference between one orifice and the other? And then, what is worse, lie about it.

Luckily for our leaders, we are not so hypocritical. We actually laugh when Narain Dutt Tewari goes missing overnight. When Sanjay Singh is accused of killing his girlfriend's husband, Syed Modi. When Narasimha Rao leaks steamy chapters from his political novel When Laloo Prasad forces Deve Gowda to make Kanti Singh into an Union minister. Or Chandrababu Naidu nominates Jayaprada to the Rajya Sabha. When Gopinath Munde is accused of roaming around with Barkha, the tamasha girl. In fact, sometimes we even go a step further and elect Jayalalitha, MGR's secret girlfriend, as his political heir. It shows wisdom, political maturity, an electorate that concerns itself with real issues. Not stuntbaazi. Not witch hunting. Nor crotchwatching either.

Not bad for a democracy only fifty years old.

Pritish Nandy

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