'Power is an aphrodisiac’ is a saying that has been deliberately converted into an axiom and a banality. The casualness of its dressing is made to condone the transgressions of men who constantly hunt while in power. But there is another part of this quote, in the earlier Napoleon Bonaparte version (not the later Henry Kissinger edition), which assembles better its naked ambition and vulgarity. It says: “Women! They belong to the highest bidder. Power is what they like—it is the greatest of all aphrodisiacs … As for me, I take them and forget them.” If one has to watch a gory adaptation of every syllable of this quote in recent days, one has to visit Karnataka. The whole of last month, male sexuality has been discussed not just on the streets and television studios but also on the floor of the state legislature.
When media has been busy picking on the Bengal BJP chief’s quote asking Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to use ‘bermuda shorts instead of a saree’ to display her broken leg and the insinuation of DMK leader A Raja against the deceased mother of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami, Karnataka has been conjuring obscenity of a different order. If indecency during elections could be seen as a wartime excursion, what is happening in Karnataka is sheer peacetime idleness. It is a play that has been devised to derive wicked pleasure at taxpayers’ expense and has willy-nilly implicated the entire political class and their families. What began as a seemingly controlled play has now reached a situation where the puppeteer has lost control over the puppet strings. The desperation may assassinate reputations further and eventually consume the state government.
It all began in the first week of March when a sleazy video clip surfaced of the nearly 60-year-old water resources minister in the BJP government, Ramesh Jarkiholi. The girl in the video apparently had gone to him seeking a job. The authenticity of the video is yet to be confirmed, but one wonders if anybody is waiting for it when the clip has reached millions and private judgements have been passed. The minister and the girl in the video were also bantering about politics. Ramesh in the video calls Chief Minister Yediyurappa ‘terribly corrupt’ and certifies Siddaramaiah, the former chief minister, as better. Now, this should have served as a wonderful testimonial for the Congress, but instead it has made them squirm. This is because Siddaramaiah was the boss of Ramesh, who had crossed over to the BJP in 2019 with 17 others to pull down a Congress-JD(S) coalition government that the former Karnataka CM never wanted to be formed in the first place. A perception that persists is that most legislators who had crossed over then were loyal to Siddaramaiah and continue to be so to this day.
Once this video was out, rumour was rife that more lewdness may hit the roof and would implicate half-a-dozen BJP ministers, who had crossed over from the Congress in 2019 like Ramesh. They panicked and sought an injunction from a lower court against broadcasting or printing of any incendiary material against them. This was some admission of guilt, but they deftly deployed brazenness. One smart minister among the injunction-seekers propounded that there was no male legislator in the state Assembly who was loyal to his wife. That is, there was no maryada purushotamma. Monogamy was anathema, polygamy was in practice was what he said about his lawmaker colleagues. In one stroke, he delegitimised the entire legislature. The political wife, the political girlfriend and the political acquaintance all happily coexisted in a promiscuous loop, was the scenario he painted. Siddaramaiah and others feebly resisted this in the Assembly but wouldn’t show enough gumption to invoke privilege. Perhaps they were unsure as to what lay hidden about them in dark lockers. Chief Minister Yediyurappa anyway lacked moral currency to question any of this.
Now who does all this chaos benefit? Who is the puppeteer of the show? The statements of Ramesh, the girl in the video, that of her parents and of other leaders point towards D K Shivakumar, the Karnataka Congress president. There is a power tussle between him and Siddaramaiah, but rumour mills also have it that he has a passionate score to settle with Ramesh. In the Assembly, Shivakumar spoke on this issue with scant regard for decorum. There was innuendo enveloping the House, but he was not stopped. He was not expunged. The House had lost its moral bearing. It is in this same house a couple of years ago the former speaker had causally likened himself to a ‘rape survivor’ and the House had guffawed. This was a new low. How do political wives, political daughters and women politicians suffer these indignities? Can anybody quantify their trauma? Nobody knows what any female member of Ramesh’s family thinks of him. No mother, no wife or daughter has rushed to his defence. They may be behind their patriarchal veils.
Ironically, D K Shivakumar, Ramesh and the minister who thrashed monogamy are all neighbours in a posh Bengaluru locality. They are currently protected by a posse of women cops because they fear that each other’s women agitators may storm their bungalows.
Senior journalist and author