Legislative proceedings are usually far from stimulating and we have grown accustomed to MPs and MLAs stealing a surreptitious nap or even snoring defiantly to escape the tedium of debate. But the three Karnataka BJP ministers who were forced to resign Wednesday morning chose a most unusual way to escape what they regarded as an arid discussion on the drought situation in the State. Much to the embarrassment of themselves and their party, TV cameras caught them transfixed by, ahem, a film clip, on one of their cell phones. Laxman Savadi, who was Minister for Cooperation, may protest till he is blue in the face, but his explanation that he was watching a newsclip about a woman being gang-raped simply doesn't wash. The best that can be said in an age where our legislatures are sporadic witnesses to a range of boisterous activity — fisticuffs, abuse, screaming, overthrown furniture, ripped out microphones, torn papers and flung slippers — is that the trio were at least passing their time in quiet communion. Watching pornographic material in the House is a first in the history of Indian legislatures, but like almost everything else in the sleazy world of politics, somebody's already been there, done that. Last April, an Indonesian MP belonging to an Islamic party that campaigns for anti-pornography legislation was forced to resign after being caught watching porn in parliament, presumably to acquaint himself better with the subject matter of what he was opposing.

On a serious note, there is an important message in this, one that exposes the unalloyed hypocrisy of those who adopt conservative and hardline postures on issues relating to sex and morality. It is in Karnataka that fundamentalists assaulted women in pubs, ran campaigns against Valentine's Day, launched investigations into the so-called love jihads — all professedly to protect Hindu culture from immoral foreign influences. For a party that likes to think it is different, the porn incident is a severe embarrassment for the BJP. To have forced the three ministers to “voluntarily resign” is hardly going to check the damage caused to the party and State government, which is already under some fire for permitting a reportedly wild rave party in Udupi. When privilege motions are moved against legislators and outsiders for lowering the dignity of the House, it would be really strange if no more action is taken against the erring MLAs. But rather than reacting to what they did with blustering moral outrage, the incident should be used as an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the BJP and its aggressive fellow travellers in the Sangh Parivar, who, through their moral policing and self-styled vigilantism, regard themselves as the custodians of Indian morality.

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