There are politicians who love their beards. Just in case anyone has not noticed, Narendra Modi's beard has been growing longer with each passing day. That is a sign he is nurturing his beard, which now gives him quite the look of a sadhu. The beard was different till a few months ago. It has now taken a different form. He appears happy with the new look of it and so do his fans.
Modi is not the only politician sporting a beard these days. The young Justin Trudeau too has a beard, which certainly looks good on him. One wonders, though, why he chose to go down that path. It is not usual for political figures in the West to grow beards, but Trudeau, the son of the late lamented Pierre Trudeau, has appeared to inform people that he has a different take on the issue. If he is happy with his beard, who are we to complain?
Think back on Abraham Lincoln. When he was elected President of the United States in 1860, he was absolutely clean-shaven. Lean and thin he had always been, with cheeks that were quite sunken. It was only when a little girl wrote to him, after his election, that he would look nice with a beard that Lincoln developed that beard. Nearly one and a half century later, one cannot but thank the little girl who gave him the advice. For the remaining five years of his life, Lincoln wore that beard, which gave him the gravitas we associate with his politics.
In our times, we have had the Taliban in Afghanistan insist on beards for all males, with the specification that the beard on every man must protrude through a closed fist and nothing less. In Iran, since the fall of the Shah in 1979, the beard has been a hallmark of national politics. The ayatollahs have worn their own brand of beards, while men like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have neatly trimmed ones, almost in the manner of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. In Tehran, if one may be so bold as to use the term, the beard is not only a metaphor for the change brought about through the fall of the Shah but also a status symbol in the country.
And, by the way, Leon Trotsky, murdered so brutally by Stalin's agents in Mexico in 1940, had a smart beard. And if we are talking of beards that have enhanced the appeal of public figures, we have Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, the famous Indian scholar-politician, in mind. His beard sat well on him. In Bangladesh, Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani's beard was almost legendary. It was his trademark and we cannot imagine Bhashani without that free flowing beard.
It is said that in prison, a despairing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto grew a beard in the final days of his life. In his halcyon days in the early 1970s, he lost little opportunity of denigrating the political opposition arrayed against him. In an interview with a foreign journal in 1976, as Pakistan's Prime Minister, Bhutto referred to the opposition as the Beards, with a capital B, implying that they were all mullahs who could do him no harm. In Pakistan, again, the Bengali politician Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan sported a beard in his career till the last day of his life.
And has anyone noticed how Senator Ted Cruz, he who was in league with Donald Trump to overturn the results of last year's presidential election in the United States, has grown a beard? It may not help him recover some semblance of the credibility he has lost through his chicanery. In Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, whose ambition of being the country's Prime Minister has repeatedly been thwarted, has sported a hint of a beard. Khondokar Moshtaq, having presided over the assassinations of Bangabandhu and the four national leaders in 1975, grew a beard towards his final days on earth. The beard did nothing to free him of his notoriety.
Egypt's late ousted President Mohammad Morsi kept a stubble and seemed pleased with it. Pakistan's Moulana Fazlur Rahman is clearly proud of his flowing white beard, which flutters in the wind as he addresses the crowds to demand the resignation of the country's current leader. The Muslim politician Asaduddin Owaisi in India has his own version of a beard he tends with love even as he debates politics with his adversaries. South Africa's Thabo Mbeki has had a healthy brand of beard with his pursuit of politics.
You could say beards make a man. Or there is the other part of the story, which is that beards do not necessarily amplify the appeal of some politicians or add to their charisma. It all depends on how you consider the question of beards being a means, for politicians of course, of raising themselves in the estimation of their people. It is absolutely a personal thing. But, yes, the beard on Fidel Castro has become identified with Cuba's history. And the beard on Che Guevara has always been a perennial call to revolution.
And there we are. Let's now wait to see the trajectory the beards on Narendra Modi and Justin Trudeau take in the near future.