Should We Judge Politicians Based On Their Personal Life, Or Their Public Performance?

Posted on May 9, 2014

By Heli Shukla:

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.”
― Gabriel García Márquez

Politicians are public figures and politics is largely public service. When one signs up for a career as a politician, they simultaneously sign up for an unending scrutiny on their private lives. Drawing a line between their public, private and ‘secret’ lives becomes another part of their job altogether. The importance of keeping those thinly walled boundaries has come to light now more than ever. A huge part of this debate has been stirred up by Indian National Congress’s General Secretary Digvijay Singh going public with his relationship with journalist Amrita Rai.

digvijay singh amrita rai

When Digvijay Singh admitted to his relationship with Amita Rai via Twitter, he sent the media into a tizzy. Extremely private pictures of the couple started doing the rounds and suddenly, their relationship became a national talking point. Also, for Singh, it became another opportunity to hurl a barb at Narendra Modi. He said, “I don’t hide things like Mr Modi. It is a private matter which I have made public.” His statement was to point out Narendra Modi’s acknowledgment of his estranged wife.

Discussions centered on the private lives of politicos aren’t a recent trend. However, in the last few years, the Indian media has increased its level of scrutiny on politicians. The reason for this could be attributed to growing levels and expanding mediums of gaining information. We live and breathe in the information age and as taxpaying, well informed and responsible citizens, we find it imperative to know the kind of person our elected representative is. Several others amongst us prefer judging a politician on the basis of his/her work and not solely on their private lives.

Arguing in favor of judging politician’s based on their private lives; one may say it is completely justified simply because one is putting their faith and hard earned money into the hands of a representative who, in turn, is being elected for championing their personal ideals. In the case of Narendra Modi, post Amit Shah’s Snoopgate incident, questions regarding Modi’s attitude towards harassment of women started being appeared. Modi is someone who has never been known for misconduct against women and has consistently championed women’s empowerment. Yet, because his name was associated with the incident, a trickle of doubt regarding his professionalism did creep in. Still, private lives have hardly ever been a criterion for judging politicians in India.

N.D. Tiwari is an example of the same. His alleged involvement in a sex scandal and later on, his loss on a paternity suit filed by his son Rohit Shekhar brought his rather secretive personal life in the open. Tiwari is a veteran politician. He has thrice been the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and once served as Chief Minister for Uttarakhand. He was serving as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh when scandals related to him broke out. Prior to this, his personal life was hardly ever a matter for voters who elected him into office several times. However, once truths about his illegitimate child became known, monitoring his personal life assumed importance.

Since a large part of political campaigns is based on a candidate’s personal opinion on issues, knowing whether or not his/her views are hypocritical to their reality is important. It would be safe to say that Indian politicians are a lot more transparent in their personal and political beliefs. If they are right-wing supporters, they will prove so with their actions and similarly, if they belong to a liberal or socialist or leftist ideology, they will make efforts to strongly manifest that in the realm of their work. This could possibly be the reason why we haven’t really bothered judging them based on their personal lives.

Passing a judgment on the professional prowess of a politician based on their personal life becomes crucial when their otherwise separate lives start to overlap. This is particularly when it happens to result into something that has repercussions on the society, and moreover, on the country. Until it comes to a point such as that, basing our judgment on the work being done by a politician is also agreeable.

Voters observe the behavior of their candidates and make their choices accordingly. For some, whether or not a politician lives up to his promise is the only criterion. Whereas others like to make a choice that is far more comprehensive and that takes several other factors into account. Increased voyeurism into the lives of politicians on the part of the public is another debatable matter entirely. And Digvijay Singh makes a case for the same. His relationship with Amrita Rai was known to a considerable number of people. But, judging him based on his admittance to the same and on his leaked personal pictures is pushing the envelope a bit.

Therefore, making personal life a crucial factor for judging politicians is something entirely subjective. For everyone has a public, private and a secret life and if infringing on those is a matter of gross violation, being party to the same for an elected representative is indulgence in a kind of hypocrisy.

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