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Politics and character

Perhaps many who enter the arena of politics with none or little appreciation of the “Risks” they are likely to be exposed to end up writhing in pain at the assault made upon them by all and sundry. Politics is not in the calmness of obscurity, but, it is played in full turbulence and glare of the masses (who mistakenly are taken as followers).

Success in politics requires the conscience to be kept under control, said David Llyod George; the remark was made under the assumption that inner conscience is divine and noble. Judge that assessment today! A Niagran deluge of embarrassment would descend upon the assessor. In the context of South Asian political history of the last century mostly those politicians were successful, who were unhappily married or were widowed, by nature or design, in good time. The profession of politics has no clock to look at or to be guided by, nor does it distinguish between personal time or official hours; it demands sacrifice of all sorts. Such politics is of nobility; it is now housed in the casket of faded memories with an epitaph, “Forgotten Values”. Oaths made under the spotlight of a constellation of cameras are meaningless for politicians; it is better to rely on their character, especially, if it is anywhere near nobility.

In seeking public office, one has to be aware that, in doing so, they are, without willing to or wanting to, place themselves for incisive scrutiny by the public; inclusive of the perilously penetrating media. With the arrival of the largely uncontrolled and unfriendly “Social Media “, which now operates with no boundaries and blatantly intrusive approach, the risks have become more serious and grave.

Let’s establish, what is the risk? The first and foremost is the risk of being evaluated with no knowledge to oneself and with no prior rights to screen , amend or correct, is the element of the opinion of the “persona’ you are. To say haughtily, one is not afraid because there is nothing to hide is easiest, but extremely punishing to defend. Such remarks by politicians can render to them grievous challenge. Humans are prone to err. Barring the Saints (?), there is no person, who would not have some skeletons of sorts in the closets. In the field of politics, there are no Angels or Saints. We only have the lesser of all types of ills and evils. No politician is without a blemish.

I had begun school when J.F. Kennedy was the President of the USA. As young students, we admired him for his charisma, intellect and the courage to take on the “Evil Empire- USSR”. Obviously, this impression was created upon us by our Rev. Fathers and Rev. Bros at the school. Listening to my father discussing the Bay of Pigs’ crisis with his friends, ushered in me a great fascination with not just JFK, but the entire Kennedy clan. Reading Time and Life magazines, which carried features upon them, entrapped us to like them. People loved and followed JFK blindly. In any case, America for very long and even today has always longed to have some “Royalty” of their own. The romanticism with the Royalty of the UK has been dominant amongst the public and the Kennedys in more than one way gave to the US society that opportunity in plenty. Our young minds fell for it too. A fairy tale of politics. How inspirational we found to quote, even after him, in debates JFK’S thundering words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. To JFK’s credit, there has to be unqualified admission to the fact that he was possibly the last of the US Presidents who said anything profound. Richard Nixon, minus the Watergate scandal, was possibly the second and only President, after the Great War, who made an impact of positive nature upon global landscape. Even these two proved of human fallibility.

As I grew, I realised upon reading several books on Kennedy years that the person, as perceived in the media, of being the most honourable, was led by many indiscretions alongside his brothers, Robert and Edward. No, they were not corrupt financially; but certainly there were serious transgressions of the societal norms, by each of them. ‘The Women in Red’ or Marilyn Monroe was just one of them, who brought a ‘blemish and stain ‘upon his otherwise noble demeanour, behaviour and character. The advantage that Napoleon, Stalin, the Kennedys and Nehru had was that the glare of media wasn’t so strikingly intrusive as it later became. Today the media, unbridled as it is, can based on truth or fake or even false news or what is now called the deep fake media destroy a political career or even make one.

Senator Gary Hart, doctorate in political science from Oxford University and writer of several books was the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic candidate for the presidency. It is hard to determine whether it was bad luck or entrapment; in March 1987 he went on a weekend trip on a 25-meter-long yacht owned by Donald Soffer, which was aptly or inappropriately named as ‘monkey business’ . They were two ladies on the yacht one of whom was Donna Rice Hughes. Senator Hart was lying on the pier and Donna appeared from nowhere and her friend’s camera clicked and both were pictured in their swimming gear. A flap emerged on the character and honour of the senator, because the picture was flashed across all principal newspapers. Having fun time on a weekend is not unusual for the American society but for a presidential candidate to indulge in ordinary pleasures was unacceptable. The extra- marital affairs of the senator surfaced; history is full of the unknowable — the known (picture) proved disastrous. A person who was president material and was seen to be heading to the White House had to quit the race due to public pressure. If Hart and not George Bush Senior had made it to the White House, the world today could have been very different — no Gulf wars. No 9/11. Even Indira Gandhi, the ‘Iron Lady’, had an affair going with the then princely handsome minister of external affairs, Dinesh Singh; when discovered, the gentlemen he was, he resigned and was never part of politics — into the oblivion.

The mention of corruption conjures in everybody’s mind and definitely in most Pakistanis that it relates to financial bungling or misappropriations. No. That’s just one aspect of corruption; it has many other manifestations. Corruption, besides financial, can relate to social, moral and intellectual corruption. These have their own unique facets and implications. Financially honest, but morally dishonest; or socially generous but intellectually corrupt, etc; cannot go towards making a good character. We collectively as a nation and human race are prone to corruption in some manner or the other. There are many who are corrupt and are proud of it; then there are some who think they are not because it does not involve financials, yet this very lot could be intellectually corrupt; maintaining expedient silence upon noticing illegality is corruption of the mind. The teacher, who withholds knowledge or the manager who doesn’t impart skills to his staff, are corrupt too. They are guilty of ‘hoarding’ — again hoarding is not of goods/inventory alone; the most previous hoarding is that of knowledge. That’s corruption too.

So, with this dominating feature of being guilty of some format of corruption how can anybody seeking public office can expect that the ‘unknown’ about them will remain ‘unknowable’? It is not possible.

We hear politicians remark that their misdoings relate to their person and not to the public (masses); this is an unacceptable positioning. Public office seekers must stand ready to have their personal lives, past and present, scrutinized in public. There is, for them, no demarcation between private and public life. The dividing lines remain smudged. Ordinary private life pleasures have to be abandoned, if any expects to lead an extraordinary public life.

The everyday conduct ends up being the character. There is no door that allows any to enter the world of politics where one can leave behind his/her character upon stepping into the chambers. Character is summed up by Alfonso Kari exquisitely, ‘everyman has three characters – that which he exhibits, that which he has and that which he thinks he is’. Every politician thinks he has good character.

Publishing slander and broadcasting ill deeds of the man on the street attracts no attention; but of office holders, it would mean demolition of character. To the sadists this is juicy. It is not a good idea to talk publicly about one’s errants of misjudgement, specially those that may have occurred in youthful times — why bring to fore that matters little now. If anyone mentions in private an allegation that one is a social and moral usurper of standards; is it necessary to convey the same to the media —, that I was, but now I have repented. Repentance is between man and God. Such statements are indiscretions at their best.

Those who claim to be wedded to truth and virtue usually live separately, and in the worst of circumstances are eternally divorced. The case of our political breed will require more than a lifetime to document, the varied and numerous types of indiscretions. Our judgement skills about our political folk are in compliance with what Simon Cameron said in speech, ‘an honest politician is one who when he’s bought stays bought’. Politics, without talent can be acceptable, but without character, no’.

Sirajuddin Aziz, "Politics and character," Business recorder. 2023-01-14.
Keywords: Political sciences , Social media , Political history , Media wasn , Indira Gandhi , Donald Soffer , America , USA , JFK , UK , USSR

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