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Friday, Dec 13, 2002

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The sad lot of Caesar's wife

PERHAPS no adage has been flaunted from public platforms, articles and exhortations of every sort so frequently as the one on Caesar's wife being above suspicion. Why Caesar's wife, and not Caesar himself, and of the many married Caesars, which Caesar's wife — has never been clear. The most puzzling thing is that feminists who have been up in arms over words ending in `man', such as chairman, foreman and the like, and who even took vociferous exception to God being always depicted as a male, have not objected to male chauvinists targeting Caesar's wife instead of, say, Cleopatra's husband. Without tarrying over these conundrums, let me come to the point.

Obviously, even though repeated a million times over the millennia, the dictum is yet to penetrate the super-thick hides of those in positions of power and authority and for whom it is meant the most. How else does one explain instances such as Justice K. Venkataswami, heading the politically sensitive commission of inquiry into the Tehelka episode, simultaneously agreeing to be appointed to an office of profit under the Government? Should it not have occurred to him that the Government had high stakes in being let off the hook by him, and will go all out to placate him? That, therefore, he should scrupulously avoid giving any impression of succumbing to what might, in popular perecption, seem like a blandishment?

The plain fact is that both he and the then Chief Justice of India, who suggested his name to the Government, clean forgot Caesar's wife. However, Justice Venkataswami — all honour to him — was quick to resign from both the posts when the indiscretion came to light. Or, take the case of the three judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justices Amarbir Singh, M. L. Singhal and Mehtab Singh Gill. According to The Hindu of December 12, a high-level judicial committee has found enough material to hold that they used "undue influence" and "misused" their official position to get higher marks for their wards in the examinations conducted by the State Public Service Commission and to have them included in the list of candidates recommended for appointment under the Government.

Unlike Justice Venkataswami, the three judges are unfazed by the demands being made for their resignation and, Caesar's wife or no Caesar's wife, seem determined to dig their heels in.

The only consolation is that such deviant conduct is not confined to any one country. No country holds so many lessons on Caesar's wife for persons in authority as the US: It abounds in unsavoury examples, beginning from Sherman Adams, Chief of Staff to President Eisenhower, who had to quit because he accepted a costly gift, right down to Richard Nixon (Watergate), Mr Bill Clinton (Whitewatergate and Monicagate) and the latest scams blackening the top corporate brass. Regardless, the US President, Mr George W.Bush, appoints to the important and sensitive post of the chief of the Securities and Exchanges Commission, a person facing accusations of accounting fraud in a still undecided court case.

For the past 12 days, the UK has been on the boil with daily disclosures of egregious improprieties committed by the Prime Minister's wife — a barrister in line for a High Court judgeship, to boot — all in blind loyalty to her inseparable companion. Times, sadly, are out of joint for poor Caesar's wife!

B. S. Raghavan

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