Are Private Lives of Politicians Public Property
By Khurram M. Qureshi
The recent outburst of Imran Khan when a journalist questioned him about his decision making ability in the wake of his recent divorce with Reham Khan has created quite a furor in the media with every one asking whether the journalist was justified or not in putting this question to Imran Khan. Before we proceed further to discuss this issue in detail, there seems to be a unanimity of not endorsing the way Imran responded to the question and this is not the first time he has been found to be undiplomatic or abrasive in his public dealing. IK’s inter personal skills are not his strong area and he doesn’t belong to that breed of politicians who are known to be articulate and smooth talkers even when pushed to the wall. Not to mention his autocratic and arrogant style of leadership. If I am allowed a little digression here, some of the other traits of IK often invite lot of criticism from his political opponents. We as a nation are quite immune to the hypocritical approach and behavior of our leaders.
Each one of us, including public personalities, are entitled to privacy. However one must understand that certain issues which would be considered private for private individuals may generate great public interest for public figures. Imran Khan without any doubt has been the most charismatic and eligible bachelor that this country has seen. If there was the Charles-Diana royal wedding which hit the global headlines, Imran-Jemima wedding was also a media delight especially in this part of the world. Then their breakup also received extensive media attention. With the type of political stature that IK has acquired in the past two years and the playboy image that he still carries, his second marriage with Reham Khan created a media frenzy to say the least. Now with this marriage ending in less than a year, to expect that Ik’s privacy will not be encroached is simply being naïve.
Everyone will draw the line between personal and public issues in a different way. But generally, if a private matter affects the performance of the public figure’s duties, most would agree to be it no longer private. Like for example, the president of the United States goes through a yearly physical checkup, result of which is made public, because his being in sound physical and mental health has such great importance to the US. Similarly, personal (private) conduct of a public figure may affect his/her performance and may end up in a legitimate public inquiry like in case of Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Same rules apply for individuals seeking public office because their constituents are entitled to know whether or not the aspirants are worthy of the office that they are seeking for. It also make convincing argument that their personal life and actions some what reflect their actual beliefs. Actions speak louder than words, and one’s private actions that one may wish to keep private actually become relevant when they do not align with words and promises made publically. In the classic tradition, it is argued that public figures and leaders must exhibit both in their public and private life all the virtues to be good role models.
In the west, candidates seeking public office make a determined effort, as part of a strategy, to portray themselves as “a guy next door’ with similar belief system and family values as that of their constituents. Any trouble in their personal lives negatively affects their candidature. How can Imran Khan successfully run a country if he can’t manage his marital life, with two failed marriages, is yet another question that is being tossed around.
Coming to the rescue of IK, we can quote two examples from the history where troubled or failed marriages did not prevent those leaders delivering freedom to their nations. One is Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the other is from a more recent past, Nelson Mandela.
Few people know that Muhammad Ali Jinnah first got married to his first cousin Emibhai Jinnah (1878 – 1893) at the age of 16. It was Jinnah’s mother Mithibai Jinnah who urged him to marry his cousin when she had turned 14. Jinnah fulfilled his mother’s desire but Emibhai died a few months later after Muhammad Ali Jinnah left for England for higher studies. Struck by the tragedy he did not marry for a long time. After 25 years at the age of 40 he married Rattanbai “Ruttie” Petit Jinnah (1900 – 1929) renamed Marriam Jinnah when she converted to Islam.
She was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, who in turn, was the son of Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, member of Petit family and the founder of the first cotton mills in India. The Petits were textile magnates and one of Bombay’s wealthiest Parsi families.
“Ruttie” as she was affectionately called, was bright, gifted and graceful. She was 16 the year she met Mohammad Ali Jinnah and married Jinnah when she turned 18. Although the couple remained married for ten years until Ruttie’s death in 1929, their marriage was far from being called happy.
Nelson Mandela married three times and fathered six children.
His life was dedicated to politics and achieving freedom for the oppressed people in the country, which left him little time with his children and loved ones. He was described as a stern and demanding father but affectionate towards his grandchildren after his release from prison.
Mandela first marriage to Evelyn Ntoko Mase from his homeland in Transkei in October 1944 and second marriage to Winnie Madikizela in 1958 both had painful endings. In fact his devotion to his cause became the primary reason for these breakups. As he writes, “When I came out of prison, I found that she had moved out and taken the children. Mase and I had irreconcilable differences. I could not give up my life in the struggle. She could not live with my devotion to something other than herself and the family. I never lost my respect and admiration for her, but in the end, we could not make our marriage work. I regret what happened to my first marriage.”
Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958. She was Johannesburg’s first black social worker. Their marriage lasted until 1996. They had two daughters, Zenani (Zeni), born on February 4, 1958, and Zind-ziswa (Zindzi) Mandela-Hlongwane, born in 1960.
Mandela was sent to Robben Island in 1962 and did not witness his daughters grow up.
“I have nursed for her inside and outside of prison from the moment I first met her.” Mandela said describing his marriage to Winnie. Journalist Jessie Duarte who interviewed Mandela said Mandela and Winnie had grown apart. He said Mandela recognised this. Duarte said he (Mandela) thought it was going to be very difficult for them to continue a relationship that hadn’t been there for 27 years. Mandela had very fond memories of their early marriage together. Winnie was his only reference point physically with the rest of the world for a long time.
Mandela married his third wife Graça Machel in 1998 on his 80th birthday. She was the widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president.
And now a important question: Can a politician be ethical in public if he or she is unethical in private? This has been a longstanding ethical debate what is called “the unity of the virtues”. According to many ancient Greek philosophers, there are four Cardinal Virtues (positive moral traits) which a person must possess. These are (1) Prudence (the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason), (2) Temperance (moderation or voluntary self-restraint which includes restraint from retaliation in the form of non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance in the form of humility and modesty, restraint from excesses and restraint from excessive anger or craving for something in the form of calmness and self-control), (3) Courage (is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. Physical courage is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, death or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss) and (4) Justice (the moderation or mean between selfishness and selflessness).
Many Greek Philosophers argued that a person could not possess one of the above cardinal virtues without possessing them all. Socrates believed that virtue was a matter of understanding, and that once a person understood good and evil, he or she would naturally be prudent, temperate, courageous, and just. Aristotle argued that virtue had this intellectual component, but also included the virtue of character – that is, habits of behavior developed by proper training. Aristotle understood that it was possible, in people with insufficient training, for the passions to overrule reason; thus people might well exhibit some virtues and not others. Still, Aristotle would have argued that leaders should have “true virtue, where all parts of the soul are pulling in the same direction”; that is, toward the good. Many people still hold to the unity of the virtues, making a case, for example, that a politician who cheats on his wife is not someone who can be trusted with the public’s business either.
PS: In the case of Imran Khan both the press and the public have shown great interest for his private life but somehow has shown a muted interest in case of some of actions of the incumbent rulers like Shehbaz Sharif for his unending stream of marriages, and then his son Hamza Shehbaz’s alleged treatment to his ex-wife Ayesha Ahad.
The writer is Lahore based political analyst, Trainer, Information Technology and Business Consultant having special interest in Business Process Reengineering, Leadership and Governance. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.