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86-Year-Old At Heart Of Indian Political Sex Scandal

Former Andhra Pradesh state Gov. Narayan Dutt Tiwari (right) looks on from his car after reaching Dehradun, India, on Dec. 28. The 86-year-old Tiwari resigned, citing health concerns, after being allegedly caught on tape in a sex scandal.
Former Andhra Pradesh state Gov. Narayan Dutt Tiwari (right) looks on from his car after reaching Dehradun, India, on Dec. 28. The 86-year-old Tiwari resigned, citing health concerns, after being allegedly caught on tape in a sex scandal.

Narayan Dutt Tiwari does not have the look of a Lothario. He does not strut or swagger; he is not sleek or lean.

Age has left its mark on his round, baggy face and crumpled frame.

Yet accounts of his sexual escapades have stunned India: Tiwari is 86 years old.

Few outside India had heard of Tiwari until recently, when a local TV channel aired a video that appears to show him in bed with three young women.

The video astonished many Indians, partly because of Tiwari's age but mostly because he happens to be governor of one of India's largest states — Andhra Pradesh, in the south. Or rather, he was the governor. This week, as the scandal raged around him, he resigned.

America has a long history of outing public figures who stray from the straight and narrow, be they presidents, talk show hosts, or — as Tiger Woods has discovered to his cost — golf champions.

Not so in India. The country has more than 1.1 billion people. Many are still very poor, with far more to worry about than the sexual adventures of their leaders.

Surveys show the public does not generally have high expectations for its politicians, who are widely seen as corrupt. Hundreds of Indian state and federal lawmakers are facing criminal charges, including some cases of murder, kidnapping and bribe-taking.

Until now, sex scandals involving politicians in India were rarely publicized, no matter how widely known the antics were.

That may now be changing, thanks to Tiwari's alleged frolicking and also to the intensifying competition among India's proliferating TV news channels.

The Tiwari video instantly made headline news. It became an overnight hit on YouTube. The media embarked on a heated debate about the significance of the octogenarian's purported sex romps and the manner in which they were exposed.

One TV channel devoted an entire half-hour to the issue. A panel of pundits raised many questions: Should India demand a far higher standard from its public figures? The post of state governor is widely seen as a form of political patronage, a job handed out as a reward for loyalty or favors.

Has the scandal damaged India's national government? Tiwari is a senior figure in the ruling Congress Party, which is now squirming with embarrassment.

Should India's gung-ho TV news channels be in the grubby trade of peddling political sex scandals?

India has no shortage of hard-line religious extremists, and it has a strong conservative streak. But, paradoxically, it also has a proud tradition of tolerance. Will that change if the private sex lives of India's leaders are seen as fair game by the ratings-hungry media?

As for Tiwari, some reports suggest he is the victim of a sting after failing to keep a promise to hand out a mining lease.

The scandal has erupted at a difficult time for his erstwhile state, Andhra Pradesh, which includes the city of Hyderabad, an IT hub and showpiece of India's economic rise. Hyderabad has recently been paralyzed by strikes and protests calling for India's government to fulfill a commitment to carve out a new state in northwest Andhra Pradesh.

Tiwari has conceded that he did entertain women at his government headquarters, but he said they were only "official delegations."

He and Congress Party officials insist the video was fabricated, in an attempt to defame him, and that he resigned on health grounds. Despite the outcry, the scandal has won Tiwari some new fans, evidently impressed that age has yet to wither the former governor.

"An 86-year-old in an orgy?" said one comment posted on the Web this week. "How marvelous!"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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