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     Volume 7 Issue 46 | November 21, 2008 |

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Public Men
Sad Marriages
Sadder Divorces

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Thaksin Shinawatra, we have just been informed, has decided to divorce his wife Pojaman. That is a sad thing to happen, considering that the couple have lately been in a good deal of trouble. Since Thaksin was removed from power by Thailand's military in September 2006, he and his family have faced a slew of corruption charges. The Thaksin couple went back to Bangkok from their self-exile abroad to face the charges against them, but fled when they realised the odds they were up against. They moved to Britain, which country has now revoked their visas. That was a shock. Now comes news of the end of their marriage.

Late Princess Diana and her husband Prince Charles.

And here you have proof again of miseries coming in a pack. It is particularly among the powerful and the influential that you often get to see the strain on couples when life begins to get a little too hot for them. One of the most recent instances of marriages sliding before collapsing altogether is the way Diana and Charles parted company, with such tragic consequences. Go back a little in time. There is a good chance that you will run into the many times when the Shah of Iran broke the hearts of his queens because they did not produce a male heir for him. He divorced two of them before linking up with Farah Diba, who did produce a crown prince. But the prince was destined never to be king, for his father was fated to lose the kingdom to a people grown disgusted with his reign. For a more sordid example of how monarchs have dispensed with their queens, you need only recall the times and life of Henry VIII. He was not content merely to show his consorts the door; he had their heads chopped off.

There are stories of men in public life who could not make it to the very heights of ambition because of their divorces. We recall Nelson Rockefeller in the United States. He left his wife and then went ahead with marrying another woman. And this was at a time when divorce for public individuals was considered taboo. Rockefeller, who always wanted to be president, ended his career as vice president, albeit an appointed one, under Gerald Ford, who himself had been appointed to the presidency amid the Watergate scandal. There is the tale of Zulema Yoma, whose marriage with Argentine President Carlos Menem ended when the latter literally threw her out of the presidential palace. That was a horrendous thing to do, but then, some men do not realise the heartbreak they cause in the women who have fathered their children. Nicolas Sarkozy became president of France with much fanfare and then swiftly ended his marriage with the beautiful woman who had stood by him during the campaign. Within weeks, he married again, this time the model Carla Bruni.

French President Nicolus Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni.

In the Indian subcontinent, you do not hear of divorces in the way you hear of them in the west. But there have been men in public life whose marriages have often foundered on the rocks. It was with huge enthusiasm that Mohammad Ali Jinnah married the much younger Ruttie, but within a few years the marriage had gone sour. They lived separately; and when Ruttie died, Jinnah wept copious tears at her funeral. In almost similar fashion, Indira Gandhi's marriage to Feroze Gandhi simply never worked out beyond the birth of their two sons. Feroze died in 1960; and Indira went on to achieve a glorious place for herself in politics. Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was compelled to marry a cousin many years older. Then, having returned to the country after higher education in the west, he met and fell in love with the Iranian Nusrat. And then came a time when Nusrat was constantly walking out of his life and then being persuaded by Bhutto to come back. She was getting tired of his womanising. One of the women he was infatuated with, especially in his years in power, was a dark Bengali named Husna Sheikh. General Iskandar Mirza, happily married, nevertheless fell in love with Naheed, the wife of the Iranian defence attaché at Tehran's embassy in Karachi. And, of course, what happened next was inevitable: Naheed abandoned her husband and married Mirza, who however saw little reason to end his first marriage.

Nelson Mandela has been a much married man. He left his first wife in the early 1960s, married Winnie, who then campaigned for his freedom for all the twenty seven years he stayed in South Africa's prisons. Soon after Mandela walked out to freedom in early 1990, the marriage took a nosedive and the couple thought it was better to put an end to it. These days, Mandela is happy in the company of his new wife Graca, the widow of Mozambique's founder president Samora Machel. Robin Cook, the man who took over as Britain's foreign secretary after the Labour Party stormed to power in 1997, divorced his wife on their way to the airport, from where the couple were expected to board a holiday flight. Cook had little choice, for the next day the newspapers (as he had already learned) would be carrying details of his affair with his secretary. Subsequently, Cook married the secretary. He died a few years ago in a freak accident during a hillside walk.

And there we have it, all these little incidents that throw up images of imperfection in people we think, wrongly, are constituted of perfection. Remember Canada's Pierre-Elliot Trudeau? A good politician, he nevertheless could not make his marriage work. And, by the way, John McCain has been married, and divorced, before.

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