POLITICS

38 Years After Maneka Gandhi Published India's First Sex Scandal Photos, A Similar Fate Has Befallen Her Son Varun

What Surya brazenly did to Kumar and Ram those days is what an online portal has unfairly done to Varun.

24/10/2016 11:50 AM IST | Updated 24/10/2016 3:27 PM IST
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Portrait of Indian politician Jagjivan Ram, September 10th 1946. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the Varun Gandhi "scandal", "bad karma" seems to be catching up with union minister Maneka Gandhi because what she, as the editor of a magazine, once had done to a senior politician in her younger days is what the present online and social media are doing to her son.

In 1978, it was her magazine "Surya" that published the pictures of the country's first political sex scandal that more or less ended the career of Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram. Nearly four decades later, her son and rising star of BJP, is in a similar situation.

The sleazy pictures, purportedly circulated as that of Varun Gandhi, may well have been morphed. At a first glance itself they look unreal and doctored, but the damage that they would have done to his career would be hard to reverse because his party hasn't done anything to at least provide him the benefit of natural justice - innocent until proven guilty. The party spokespersons reportedly "cited instructions from the leadership that Varun should defend himself" and a member of parliament from UP even demanded action against him.

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Jagjivan Ram (News Profile) (Photo by Pushkarna Pramod/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

"It's shameful. Stringent action should follow if allegations are true," he reportedly said. Clearly, the BJP is not with him, or at least it doesn't want to take a chance.

Varun has rejected the allegations and the BJP, yet again, has refused to comment. All that the party would say was there was no need for it to comment since Varun himself have made his point.

Some see this "sting" as a ploy to thwart a smart Varun's chances of being BJP's chief ministerial candidate in UP. Now, whether he is finally successful in proving his innocence or not, the slur is likely to keep him out of the race because politics is not about reality, but about perception. In a crucial state such as UP, nobody can take risks.

What's so eerily similar was that the allegations that accompanied the sex pictures were leak of defence secrets, exactly the same charges against Varun. As journalist Dilip Bobb recalled in India Today cover-page banner-headlines in Surya ran like this: Sushma Pawn in International Spy Ring, and "Defence Secrets leaked to Chinese embassy?" (Sushma was the name of the girl featured in those photos).

According to noted journalist and writer Kushwant Singh, who was the consulting editor of the magazine, if Kamasutra had 64 poses, this one certainly had nine.

This is what happened to Jagjivan Ram too, at the hands of Maneka Gandhi's Surya. In 1978, he was the Deputy Prime Minister of the Janata Government and was perceived by many as a strong Prime Ministerial candidate who could block Indira Gandhi, who at that time was fighting hard for her return. Suddenly explicit (more explicit than the ones circulating now) pictures of his 46-year old son (some reports named him as Suresh Kumar and some, Suresh Ram) and a young college student, more than two decades his junior, appeared in Surya.

According to noted journalist and writer Kushwant Singh, who was the consulting editor of the magazine, if Kamasutra had 64 poses, this one certainly had nine. He was right, those nine images looked like regulation porn. Kushwant Singh had reportedly said that he had received the pictures in an envelope that reached his office at the Congress-run National Herald.

Those days, when the general availability of porn was limited, tolerance to obscenity was much lower, and the chances of a possible clamp-down using obscenity laws were high, no media house would have published them without a vested interest. In fact, senior journalist Inder Malhotra had reportedly said that the English daily he worked for also received the pictures, but they were not published because they were sleazy and appeared to have been politically motivated.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tribute to former Deputy Prime Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram on his birth anniversary before launching the 'Stand Up India' initiative on April 5, 2016 in Noida, India.

But, it was a weapon of personal destruction for Surya, otherwise an insignificant glossy, because Jagjivan had defected Indira Gandhi's camp, after being a cabinet minister of the Congress continuously for 30 years, and joined the Janata Party alliance to become the Deputy Prime Minister of India. There was infighting among the top leaders within the Janata alliance and he could have emerged as a Dalit alternative to Indira.

According to Kushwant's accounts, Jagjivan was willing to ditch Morarji Desai (Prime Minister of the Janata Government) and return to the Congress camp if the pictures were not published. But the deal didn't work because he was asked first to come out of the Janata fold, which he didn't do. Surya went ahead and published those pictures. According to Kushwant, the magazine had to use masking tapes on "strategic body organs". As he had said, they were so graphic that the magazine could have been sued for obscenity. These pictures are still circulating on the internet.

Kumar died a few years later and Jagjivan's career came to a close. That was his last stint in any union cabinet. Both he and the party that he floated - Congress (J) - disappeared from public memory without a trace, although he lived for another seven years.

What Surya brazenly did to Kumar and Ram those days is what an online portal has unfairly done to Varun. Had Surya stuck to the basic media ethics, it wouldn't have published them; but it had a political motive.

Reportedly, that particular edition of Surya sold out in the market so fast that it had to be reprinted thrice. The (unmasked) photos also circulated in the local markets as high-priced porn.

What Surya brazenly did to Kumar and Ram those days is what an online portal has unfairly done to Varun. Had Surya stuck to the basic media ethics, it wouldn't have published them; but it had a political motive. Maneka Gandhi was Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law and Indira was not happy with Jagjivan.

There were many versions that appeared in the media those days about the origin of the photos. Some said that Kumar had taken them himself using a self-time polaroid camera and that they were snatched away from him, while some said that he and his girl-friend were abducted and photographed under duress. Without verifying the circumstances, and more importantly, the veracity of the images, Surya published them. Surya should have never published the images because those archaic days it was impossible in India, except for probably big institutions, to find out for sure if the images were authentic.

Now, when scandalous photos of her son are circulating online, both Jagjivan and Kumar must be laughing in their graves. Varun is certainly a victim; but so where Jagjivan and Kumar. Fortunately for Varun personally, the "scandal" hasn't found much traction with the mainstream media and these days even the general public know that photos and videos can be manufactured.

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