The Greek biographer Plutarch wrote about this episode which involved Julius Caesar before he came to fame.
A thuggish young man called Publius Clodius sneaked into Caesar’s house during a festival which only women were supposed to attend. Clodius was very young, had little facial hair and disguising himself as a woman tried to seduce Caesar’s wife Pompeia.
He was spotted before he could even locate her, and was chased out of the house by the servant girls. Word spread and the city’s officials were aghast that Clodius’s presence had polluted their sacred festival. A tribune (the guardian of the people’s rights) took Clodius to court and prosecuted him on the charge of sacrilege.
“Caesar divorced Pompeia at once,” wrote Plutarch, “but when he was called as a witness at the trial, he said that he knew nothing about the charges against Clodius. This seemed a most surprising thing to say and the prosecuting counsel asked: ‘In that case why did you divorce your wife?’
‘Because,’ said Caesar, ‘I consider that my wife ought not even to be suspected.’
Many contemporary Roman historians refer to this episode including Dio Cassius, Suetonius and Appian, showing that it actually happened.
Anyway, Clodius was acquitted of the charge, Caesar gained a reputation and we got the saying about how Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.
This fine Italian tradition of upholding one’s honour at the cost of relatives is something Sonia Gandhi should consider following.
The Congress president has always presented herself as being very moral and upright. The reason she declined to become prime minister in 2004, when the Congress surprised the opinion pollsters and came back to power, was that she did not want office. In any case, this is what she claimed: that she had not entered politics for selfish reasons. She had entered for a higher good (I do not remember if she told us what this higher good was).
In the same period there was much talk of her daughter Priyanka joining politics but that did not happen. Sonia Gandhi seemed genuinely reluctant to succumb to what almost anybody else would have been unable to resist.
This theme was given extension when her son Rahul came to the Lok Sabha in 2004 but did not become minister. He won again in 2009 but did not become prime minister, though his chamchas like Jyotiraditya Scindia were begging him to, through pleas in the media.
Given this background, it is surprising that the Gandhis have refused to come clean on Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra’s land dealings. Ashok Khemka, the bureaucrat who has examined the deals, has found that there is a problem with the transactions between Vadra and the real estate giant DLF.
On 12 February, 2008 Vadra's Skylight Hospitality bought 3.53 acres of land in Shikohpur, near Delhi, for Rs 7.5 crore, then obtained permission to build a commercial colony there. Over the next few months, a report in the Times of India said, Vadra transferred the land and permission for colony to DLF and made a minimum profit of Rs 42.61 crore, according to Khemka.
Congressmen have responded to the findings in time-honoured fashion by maligning Khemka. But those who have studied the deal even cursorily will know that it is something that needs to be investigated openly. So far the Congress has said, quite bizarrely, that it is a private business dealing that the public should not concern itself with.
It is no such thing, of course. Vadra is the son-in-law of the most powerful person in India. If nothing else, Sonia Gandhi is morally obliged to set the matter to rest.
Instead, when the story first appeared months ago, the Gandhis sat tight and waited for it to blow away as it inevitably did.
It is embarrassing that this was allowed to happen by a family that does not otherwise hesitate in telling us how disinterested it is in the spoils of office.
And now the story has returned. It is too late for Vadra to show himself to be above suspicion. But it isn’t late for the Gandhis to show that their moral positions are not mere posturing.