The crestfallen face of the presenter after interviewing Margaret Thatcher embodied the fate of Asians in Great Britain: the permanent rejection of British society after having spent a lifetime in this country.
With Indian-born Rishi Sunak in the race to lead the UK, it’s important to realize how much the UK has changed over the years like this excerpt from the book ‘VQE. The story of an Indian doctor in the UK of the 1980s indicates this.
Politically, Britain in 1980 was going through an exciting if somewhat stormy phase.
A year earlier, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. She had led her party to a decisive victory over the Labor Party led by former Prime Minister James Callaghan. The 1979 election proved to be a turning point in British politics for yet another reason: it was the start of 18 years of unbroken Conservative rule.
As a person, Margaret Thatcher was not a hugely popular figure. In fact, in the polls leading up to the election, voters had indicated a preference for James Callaghan, the incumbent prime minister, despite a general Conservative lead. Ultimately, however, Labour’s poor governing record that sparked a succession of strikes in 1978-79 – commonly referred to as the “Winter of Discontent” – sealed the fate of James Callaghan and catapulted Margaret Thatcher to the post of higher.
Somewhere in her political career, Margaret Thatcher had earned a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense politician. A particularly vehement indictment of the Soviet Union when she was the leader of the opposition resulted in a sharp rebuke in the Soviet Ministry of Defense newspaper which dubbed her “The Iron Lady “.
It was an epithet that would stick and one that Margaret Thatcher gladly exploited to her advantage. In December 1979, in a foreign policy speech delivered in New York, Margaret Thatcher affirmed her firm opposition to the policies of the Soviet Union and willingly accepted the label affixed to her:
The immediate threat from the Soviet Union is military rather than ideological. The threat not only threatens our security in Europe and North America, but also, directly and by proxy, in the third world. I have often spoken of the military challenge facing the West today. I have sometimes been deliberately misunderstood, especially by my enemies who called me an “Iron Lady”. They are absolutely right, that’s me.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few days later, on December 27, 1979, had only reinforced his distrust of the Soviet Union and his fears seem to have rubbed off on the whole country. When I landed in Britain in 1980, the country was in a state of hysterical paranoia, expecting Russian soldiers to land on its soil at any moment. TV stations aired both serious documentaries that seemed almost wacky, as well as light-hearted sitcoms depicting life in Britain after a Soviet invasion.
On the home front, as Prime Minister of an increasingly multicultural nation, Margaret Thatcher failed to exude the benevolent statesmanship one would expect. She came across as an imperious hawk, an impression more befitting of an opposition leader than a prime minister. Most disconcerting was a scowl that frequently appeared on his face. Added to this was his condescending tone of voice that turned into an irritating moan when overcome with strong emotion. In short, she appeared as a headmistress lecturing her students.
More specifically, it failed to inspire confidence in the immigrant population. She had already clearly expressed her position on immigration with the approach of the legislative elections: she was fiercely opposed to it. In a TV interview for Granada World in Action in January 1978, she said:
“Well listen, let’s try to start with some numbers as we know them, and I’m the first to admit that it’s not easy to get clear numbers from the Home Office on immigration, but there was a committee that looked at it and said if we carried on as we are, by the end of the century there would be four million people from the new commonwealth or from Pakistan here. is huge and I think that means people are really rather scared that this country might be overwhelmed by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much to across the world that if there is the slightest fear of it being overwhelmed, people will react and be rather hostile to those who enter.
His position on immigration had been harshly criticized by political leaders and prominent members of the clergy, but his remarks found a favorable audience among a significant portion of the electorate. After the interview, the Tories for the first time overtook Labor in the opinion polls. Margaret Thatcher successfully played the immigration card, a strategy that would ultimately lead her to victory.
So when she became prime minister there was a sense of apprehension in the Asian immigrant community and Mrs Thatcher did little to allay those fears. In fact, his words and his intransigent attitude increased mistrust. A particularly revealing TV interview comes to mind.
At that time, no television channel catered exclusively to the South Asian community. The only South Asian program was a variety show broadcast by the BBC on Sunday mornings. It was a short presentation that lasted no more than half an hour and consisted of a news segment that narrated week-old events from the subcontinent, local happenings and a popular song in Hindi. which served as the final. Nazia Hassan’s Aap Jaisa Koi Meri Zindagi Mein Aaye was all the rage at this time and was invariably the closest curtain on this show. Bringing it all together and serving as the anchor for this variety program was an aging Asian gentleman and grandfather who must have been a resident of Britain for at least 30 years. He was the face of the Asian community on British television.
In one of these shows, this old man interviewed Margaret Thatcher. Throughout the interview, the sweet, self-effacing anchor made a sincere and sincere effort to reach out to Margaret Thatcher, trying to get her some sort of reassurance for Asians in Britain. But all his pleas for Asians to be included in Margaret Thatcher’s vision of a future United Kingdom have been in vain; they hit a stone wall. The “Iron Lady” did not wither or show any compassion. Although she didn’t put it in so many words, her steely composure said it all: immigrants were not welcome under her rule.
The presenter’s crestfallen face at the end of the interview epitomized the plight of Asians in Britain then: the continued rejection of British society after having spent a lifetime in that country.
To be fair, my colleagues who currently live in Britain tell me that the racial situation in Britain improved dramatically over the next three decades, leading to greater acceptance of Asians in the mainstream. of British life in the late 1990s and into the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Adapted from Vivek Gumasté. EQV. The story of an Indian doctor in the UK of the 1980s. Notion Press.2018