Rumour mills have it that former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is in love. His relationship or 'friendship' with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam has raised many eyebrows, even raising a political storm of sorts in Punjab Assembly.
His political opponents are convinced Singh is in the “clutches of an ISI agent”.
But both parties in question are furious. Aroosa Alam says the whole issue is being blown out of proportion. “We are journalists and we should respect each others’ privacy. I am just a very good friend of the Captain,” she told newsmen on Wednesday.
Amarinder Singh was less polite. “Whoever I am friends with is my business. What has that got to do with anyone?” he thundered.
As the private vs public debate raged, CNN-IBN discusses if a politician's love life should be open to public scrutiny on Face the Nation. To debate the issue on the show moderated by Sagarika Ghose were advertising guru Alyque Padamsee, Haryana Minister for Power, Parliamentary Affairs & Public Health Randeep Singh Surjewala and Editor of Marie Claire (India) Shefalee Vasudev.
Unlike Western media that chases, scrutinises and dissects private lives of public people – Sarkozy-Bruni being the latest examples – the Indian media has been relatively subdued in its interference in politicians’ lives.
However, the “Amarinder affair” has an interesting, national security twist to it. In the 1960s, UK was rocked by the infamous Profumo Affair, the first to bring in a national security angle to an affair between two public persons. Christine Keeler was a former English model and showgirl whose relationship with a British government minister John Profumo left the Harold Macmillan in 1963 red in the face. Profumo had to resign after the scandal.
Love affair, a threat to India’s security?
Many are drawing parallels of that case with the alleged Amarinder affair. However, Alyque Padamsee underplayed the angle. “It all depends on what the investigations show. But really, this business of prying into politicians’ lives has become very normal because the camera follows you everywhere. In fact, now it’s not camera, it’s the telescope. If you are celebrity you got to realise the public worships you and wants to know every little detail. And why not a relationship? It may be totally platonic,” he said.
Padamsee, however said the issue must be probed if the lady in question is in someway connected to the ISI.
However, Randeep Singh Surjewala rubbished the argument and defended his party colleague Amarinder Singh. He insisted there was no harm in a woman journalist being friends with a politician. “The point is if your relationship affecting your public duty. Also in India, there are certain social sensitivities that one has to adhere to in public. As for the case in point, the lady has clarified she is a journalist, the former CM is a politician. So why can’t a lady journalist and a politician be friends? As regards the questions on security that the Akalis are raising, what is the foundation of those?”
It’s clear that Indians, generally, are not interested in the love lives of politicians. The Kanshi Ram-Mayawati affair was not much spoken of, it was the political agenda that took centrestage.
But Shefalee Vasudev believed the scenario was gradually changing. She also insisted it made for an “interesting story”.
“This is a very interesting story from a journalistic point of view. She is pretty, she is Pakistani, he is a royal, he is aloof. He is known to have a reputation. It comes across as a very nicely put together thing. She is defending the friendship. Here’s a woman from across the border who says I am committed to being friends with this man. There is a great story here and we are pursuing it,” Vasudev said.
However, while Vasudev maintained the story needed to be pursued, there were no parallels with Carla Bruni-Nicholas Sarkozy case.
Privacy limited for public people
While admitting there was a blurring of lines when private lives of public people is reported, Vasudev said it was a trade-off. “Some people argue that discretion is the better part of journalism but what exactly is the better part of discretion? Is it not chasing the most photographed woman in the world or is it switching off your camera when Bangaru Laxman is about to take away the cash. There is a blurring of boundaries and we must pursue it every which way to get a story. It’s not about TRPs.”
“They (celebs) have traded their privacy for recingnition. They need the jostle of photographers and the harsh arclights and the jab of Page 3 journalists. Then if they say they don’t want the other side, there’s a question there,” Vasudev added.
But Surjewala would have none of that. He repeatedly insisted there was a thin line between news and gossip. “We have to distinguish between what’s story and what’s entertainment. The larger issue here is whether the politician’s relationship with the woman is affecting his public duty.”
Unlike the West, where details like sexual fidelity and family life of politicians is the subject of many a tabloid story, in India these issues are not seen as necessary as being a necessity in a politician’s career. Many Indian politicians may not be not good husbands and good fathers.
Padamsee agreed and cited the example of former French president Francois Mitterand. “He had a mistress and a 13-year-old daughter from her. Similarly, the French laughed themselves silly when the Clinton affair came to light. In India now that the media glare is on all celebrities – and let’s face it, politicians are celebrities – every aspect will be examined. Even if he (Amarinder) is simply having a romantic relationship, everyone’s interested. You can’t stop it. It’s human nature. We all love gossip about people in public eye. Which is why celebrity-hood is worshipped,” he said.
To talk or not to talk
Similarly, former politician Ram Manohar Lohia and Rama Mitra had a life-long relationship. Though they never got married, they lived together for years. But that time, there was no media glare. Now with 24*7 news, politics too is becoming firmly placed in popular culture. “You can’t choose the kind of attention you get. If they are clear about what they are doing for the roads and infrastructure, they should be equally forthcoming on such issues too. Either they be holier than Pope and more loyal than King, then we’ll leave them alone,” Vasudev repeated.
Surjewala remained steadfast on his point. He said Amarinder should be “ripped apart” by medi a glare should his relationship be found affecting his public life.
Padamsee concluded the debate making an interesting pint. He said till the time the person at the centre of such an attention is a man, it’s okay. “Let any hint of scandal hit a woman, everything comes tumbling down. It’s unfortunately a very male chauvinistic society and debate,” he said.
Results of the SMS poll:
QOTD: Should politician's love life should be open to public scrutiny?
Yes: 76 per cent
No: 24 per cent