Syed Badrul Ahsan
The question is rather interesting. Now that Imran Khan has married again, what happens to his street campaign against Nawaz Sharif? The answer comes from his innumerable fans: the cricketer-turned-politician will build his family and Pakistan together. Besides, ever since his divorce from the very affluent Jemima Goldsmith, he has been a loner, hasn't he? And then too there have been the legions of women who have madly, badly wanted him, in bits if not the whole of him. So this marriage to mother-of-three Reham Khan will finally keep all those predators at bay. Good reasoning. So what if Khan is in his early sixties and his bride is only forty three?
Let's not forget that political people too have hearts that throb with the excitement of love. Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a pretty austere and arrogant man, nevertheless found time to fall in love with a woman much younger to him. That was long before 1947. The twenty-two year-old Ruttie, daughter of Jinnah's friend, married the future founder of Pakistan when he was in his early forties. And, by the way, however you might think of Pakistani politics, please do not forget that a good number of its leading lights have been men of intense romantic feelings. Iskandar Mirza was smitten by Nahid, the beautiful wife of the Iranian naval attaché in Karachi, so much so that the lady left her husband and tied the knot with Pakistan's first president. Mirza's first wife Rifaat never spoke to him after that treachery.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a good eye for pretty women. His last conquest outside marriage was the dark Bengali woman named Husna Sheikh, who would sit at his knees as Pakistan's first elected leader ran his fingers through her hair in the deepening hours of the night. General Yahya Khan was infatuated with Melody Queen Noor Jahan, who after Yahya's fall ran into quite a bit of trouble with her reputation coming under assault. In the early 1960s, Ayub Khan's name came up in the British media about his taking a swim with the prostitute Christine Keeler. Of course, the news report never appeared in Pakistani newspapers. Ghulam Mustafa Khar, uncle of former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and once a powerful politician in the Pakistan People's Party, had the wonderful habit of periodically falling in love with various women and ending up marrying some, if not all, of them.
But, as we keep saying, politicians are human too. Tickle them and they laugh. Touch them or let them touch the other species and they get thoroughly excited. We have the very recent instances of the many women who were seduced by that incorrigible romantic Bill Clinton. Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky, women have always felt drawn to Clinton. And, to be sure, there was John F. Kennedy who simply could not go through life without women for company. It was a trait he acquired from his father Joseph P. Kennedy, who once raped a well-known movie actress of his times and got away with it. The Kennedys were men with healthy lust in their hearts. But there have been men, such as the very cerebral Jawaharlal Nehru, in whom love was not only platonic but was only directed at women who could reflect on the world in their own, distinctive ways. That explained his deep friendship with Edwina Mountbatten. His daughter Indira was not so lucky. Her marriage to Feroze Gandhi, despite its roots in love, waned as the seasons turned. There have been men who have imagined being in love with Indira Gandhi, but she gave no sign that she was ever drawn to love again after Feroze.
A very political love affair defined the marriage of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner. You could say they were a power couple, with Nestor getting elected Argentina's president first, followed by Cristina. Nestor is dead, but Cristina goes on battling her enemies bravely in Buenos Aires. In earlier times, a young and ambitious Ferdinand Marcos fell in love with the Philippines' beauty queen Imelda. Their marriage turned them into a power couple, to a point where they began to think of themselves as the state. Marcos' reputation is today in tatters, but his widow has never wavered in her love for him. If only Argentina's Carlos Menem were built in the mould, the romantic part of it, of Ferdinand Marcos, life would be easier for him. Menem scandalised people when he publicly shut the doors of the presidential palace to his wife Zulema Yoma and felt hardly any embarrassment in doing so. Britain's late foreign secretary Robin Cooke revealed to his wife, even as they were on their way to the airport to take a holiday flight, his love for his secretary. The marriage ended right there, in that moving car.
Politicians like Indonesia's Ahmed Sukarno loved women intensely. Sukarno married quite a few times and was always in love with women across the country. And women found him irresistible, whether for his personality or for the power he wielded was never very clear. In Bangladesh, there have been the rumours, all these years, of Bangabandhu firing an influential minister over the latter's illicit love for a leading movie actress of the 1970s. And then there have been the stories of an academic-turned-politician infatuated with yet another movie actress for a very long time. The actress did not marry him. And he went on to be a minister. Then again, there are all the tales and all the realities relating to the romantic nature of Hussein Muhammad Ershad.
There are the times when indiscreet gallivanting can ruin the career of an ambitious politician. American presidential hopeful Gary Hart had Donna Rice sit on his lap on a boat called Monkey Business. The image, flashed across the country, saw his White House hopes go up in smoke. The year was 1988. And Nelson Rockefeller was never able to live down his second marriage to a woman named Happy. His repeated attempts to be president of the United States came to nought. The closest he ever came to being president was when Gerald Ford appointed him vice president in the aftermath of Watergate in 1974.
Morality apart, there is no denying that men in high political office are often tempted into straying from marriage and indulging their passions for physical satisfaction. In France, Francois Mitterrand fathered a daughter outside marriage and was not embarrassed about it. President Francois Hollande fathered four children with his former partner, the politician Segolene Royal, before he fell in love with the journalist Valerie Trierweiler. And then his life with Trierweiler came to an end when he was spotted stepping inside the apartment of the actress Julie Gayet last year.
Desire for a woman can often push the man in power to a sordid end. Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha died of a heart attack even as he was engaged in sex games with a prostitute in Lagos. John Profumo, Britain's Minister for War, lost his job and his reputation when his links to Christine Keeler were exposed in the summer of 1963. And, finally, we have no idea of how much of a romantic man Muammar Gaddafi was. But we do recall that all his bodyguards were women recruited from Libya as well as foreign countries --- and all built in a hefty Amazonian mould. They were hugely beautiful women too.
And this is where we end our story. But before we do, let us wish Imran Khan all the best in his new marriage. Perhaps this new love in his life will add some steam to his campaign for a new Pakistan? Perhaps he won't have to spend his days in a container on the streets of Islamabad anymore?
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. E-mail: [email protected]