The Big Story: Private eye
Gujarati Patidar leader Hardik Patel knew it was coming. The man who has spearheaded the agitation demanding reservations for his community and has decided to tie up with the Congress to vote out the Bharatiya Janata Party said two weeks ago that the saffron party had prepared a “doctored sex CD” to defame him and would release it soon. In the event, two videos purportedly showing Patel have emerged, one in which he appears to have sex with a woman and another that reportedly shows him drinking alcohol. Although nothing scandalous has so far been established in either of the videos, they have nevertheless been received with glee by the BJP’s supporters, hoping this will if nothing else put a moral dent in Patel’s stature.
Some tweeted with the hashtag #HardikExposed. Others said that those who were defending Patel, by pointing out that what happens in the “sex CD” appears to be consensual and so represents nothing scandalous, are “exposing themselves more than what Hardik did.” Many other comments descend into much more profane territory.
The lack of any evidence suggesting something untoward is happening, particularly in the “sex CD,” has prompted a conversation around privacy and what is permissible, with other leaders backing Patel in saying there is no scandal even if it is him in the video. While most of the BJP leadership has itself been careful to not say too much about the tapes, even as Patel blamed the saffron party for its dirty tactics, its support base has happily taken on the task of spreading the videos and screenshots. One man claiming to be the convener of the IT and social media cell of the BJP’s Gujarat unit tweeted saying the video showed the “real truth of Hardik Patel”, adding #Besharam_Hardik, meaning shameless Hardik.
These supporters have insisted there is a public interest in releasing the Hardik Patel videos, even if there is nothing illegal in them. But this is a sharp contrast with the way the party and its support base reacted to a similar incident in Chhattisgarh, where the police have arrested a former BBC journalist for possessing videos of a sex tape showing a state minister who belongs to the BJP. The journalist, who was earlier part of a fact-finding mission to the state to look at arrests and threats against the media in the state, is accused of allegedly attempting to extort money from the BJP minister involved. But a large part of the conversation has simply been about why he had possession of a sex CD at all.
This cavalier and inconsistent attitude to privacy is reflective of a party that argued in the Supreme Court that Indians don’t have a fundamental right to privacy, only to come back after the apex court affirmed the right anyway and say it had supported the idea all along. Yet in practice, especially when there are political gains to be had, the BJP seems to live up to its image of not believe in the fundamental right. Footage from a hotel in Gujarat which hosted Congress and Patel leaders last month, for example, was allegedly confiscated by intelligence agencies and then promptly released to the media as proof of meetings between the two. And any discussion of privacy invasions in Gujarat serves as a reminder of the ‘snoopgate’ fracas, in which Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister of the state, used government machinery for surveillance of a private individual.
This attitude towards privacy, happily invading it in an election-bound Gujarat but arresting a journalist in Chhattisgarh, albeit with the addition of extortion charges, are reflective of the party that appeared willing to ditch the concept altogether simply to save its Aadhaar programme. The Supreme Court earlier this year affirmed our fundamental right to privacy but the message does not seem to have gone through. For the BJP, it seems, privacy is still a right of convenience, applied only when it is advantageous.
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