February 27, 2000


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Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Sushma's swaraj

Is there a method in the information and broadcasting minister's apparent madness? Readers who are convinced that there isn't, may please email me at the id given at the end of this piece, and also please excuse a divergent view being propagated here.

Which is that, Swaraj, at the helm of an important ministry, is playing for big stakes when she goes a-tilt at the windmills represented by the idiot box.

Does Fashion TV, whose prurience is of a vastly reduced scale than what is peddled on the main avenue of any Indian metropolis, merit the ministerial wrath, especially when this is a land where the sensual, the carnal and the bestial have always co-existed -- as evidenced in the sculptures of Khajuraho or on the murals of any number of temples across India?

Does the minister really think the suggestion of a leg here, a glimpse of a breast there, the sight of models exploring each other's mouth on the telly, is a cultural threat deserving of the extreme measure? Just which culture, which era, does the lady come from?

Makes one wonder, what next? What will Sushma Swaraj, the Goebbels of the Sangh Parivar, now do? Let us try placing the lady in different times in Indian history and see how she could have altered the scenario:

Vatsyayana hauled up for obscenity

Vatsyayana, who was embarking on his much-awaited treatise on sexuality, which he has tentatively titled Kama Sutra has incurred the royal ire with Sushma Swaraj, entrusted with the task of regulating the flow of information, finding the celebrated author's efforts offensive.

According to sources in the palace, Vatsyayana's plan to chronicle the sexual mores of the times fell foul of the minister's own views on the subject. "If allowed to publish, the book will present a distorted view of our culture, and also have a harmful effect on impressionable minds," Sushma Swaraj is reported to have told the royal court.

While Vatsyayana has not violated any regulation in force, there is a feeling that that given Swaraj's proximity to the ruling family, her views on the subject may carry weight and the former may be asked to tone down some of the graphic details in his keenly awaited treatise.

Poor Vatsyayana, such would have been his fate had Swaraj been around in his time.

No more references to Krishna's leela

There will be no more rendition, or depiction, of Krishna's escapades among the Gopis.

This is in conformity with instructions issued by Sushma Swaraj, who has decreed that Krishna's exploits border on the vulgar, and hence were purely titillatory in nature. "Also, this aspect of Krishna's life presents women as sex objects, who exist only to pleasure the male, and should not be propagated," Swaraj is learnt to have argued.

A final decision in the matter will be taken only after considering the public sentiment, sources in the administration said.

Well, well, poor Krishna and his enviable love life...

Purely imaginative, yes, but you can see the kind of harm the likes of this minister can do if she is not restrained.

'Tis said that a woman brings a certain sensitivity to the job, but believers in this dictum will be forced to change their view after a dekko at the two Cabinet ministers who have hogged the headlines this last week. Sushma, of course, of the 'off with this channel, off with that ad' fame, and the railway minister who told the Lok Sabha on Monday that her silence was golden. Though uttered in a different context, never has a truer word been spoken.

Between the two, it is very clear where the railway minister is coming from. Her focus was and remains her home-state, and if her party ends up doing as well as the newspapers say it will, then it is only a question of time before she gives up Delhi for Calcutta. With Sushma, unfortunately, things are not so clear...

The truth about democracy, at least in the Indian context, is that it is not enough if ministers are doing their job, they also have to be seen doing their job. And ask any spinmeister worth his spiel the surefire way to achieve this, and he will tell you that the best way is to make it to the front pages. And even if you don't ask any editor worth his SIM card how that could be done, he will tell you that controversies sell, good news is bad news, and all that.

So when there are any number of issues that an information and broadcasting minister can address, both within and outside the ministerial purview, why is Swaraj intent on converting the I&B ministry into an extension of the Advertising Standards Council of India? When there is any number of crimes being perpetrated against women and children, both in Delhi where the minister has her office and elsewhere in the country, why is this woman's sensitivity not appalled enough to try and put an end to such atrocities? Why is she focusing on a television channel that less than 1 per cent of the population must be having access to, why is she targeting advertisements that even fewer Indians would have seen, leave alone noticed?

The answer is, she is playing for the long term. The future of her government is shrouded in mystery, the glue that is holding it in place being of a non-permanent nature, like everything that is human. Tomorrow the alliance may be headed by someone less favourably inclined towards Swaraj -- while this may be a valid apprehension in the minds of everyone in the Union Council, the I&B minister is in a slightly different situation.

For one, she has served time in the wilderness after enjoying the fishes and loaves of office, and knows well what a long haul it would be to claw her way back into the privileged circle. For another, after being the media's darling for so long, especially during election time when presentation scores over content, she knows well the way to the front-pages and the way to stay there. Hence the tilting at windmills.

Of course she is riding a tiger. No chief executive likes to learn from the newspapers what his subordinate is up to, or having his administration tarred in the media by liberals for the actions of an individual minister. It is something that Sushma Swaraj, in her enthusiasm to take out insurance, may have overlooked.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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