Sunny Hundal, in Hindusstan Times, Oct 20, 2016
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, at the G20 summit, Hangzhou, China. (File Photo) (PTI)
(Note: “WASP” (white-anglo-saxon-protestant), was the war cry or watchword in America against the coloured people, Asian or African in olden times. If it is true, history repeats itself, that exactly is what is happening in UK after the Brexit. Is Enoch Powel rising up from his own grave to heap up a bigger funeral pyre to make him dust unto dust, never to rise again.
Without the immigrants, who could have built up an empire in which the sun never sets? Something that happened to me 40 years ago may be relevant. This scribe was listening to Soapbox orator in Hyde park corner, London on a Sunday evening. Among the many speakers there was one Indian who was railing against the atrocities of British Colonialists who built up the country with the wealth they looted from India, rightly called the “Rape of India.” An enraged English man in the crowd listening to him roared back: “You a bastard from India!” With a cynical smile the Indian retorted:“Yes you the British civilized the barbaric Indians by building roads and railways. But all of them ended up at various ports like Bombay. For what? To ship the wealth of India to the then “Little England” to make it today’s Great Britan with all the Skyscrapers you see around.” Besides they went around India begetting fatherless children (not raping of course but helping to improve their colour!) Now the grown up fatherless kids wander the whole world in search of their fathers. They finally come to England and you Call us: “Bastards!” With that wit and wisdom the Indian made the whole crowd burst into a laughter and the questioning WASP had to duck and disappear shamefaced in the crowd.
For the moment it made me proud as an Indian for the telling tit-for-tat. The other side of the story to remember is that it was an English who started the independent movement against the British and started the skeleton work of the Congress party which under Gandhiji raised the peaceful, nonviolent, civilized war cry: “Quit India!” without blood shed. Bygones are bygones, enlightened humans won’t brood over them, but start again with a gentlemanly shake of hands to rebuild each other, not to humiliate and destroy at each other, at their own peril. CCV is inclined to agree with the concluding sentence of this article: “It is an act of aatmahatya that senior ministers are anticipating in the way suicide-bombers look forward to heaven.”james kottoor, editor)
Nearly 50 years ago British MP Enoch Powell gave one of the most racist and controversial speeches in British political history. “Rivers of Blood”, as it came to be known, was a tirade against Indians and Africans coming to work and settle in Britain. To him it was “literally mad” that the country was allowing them in. “It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre,” he shrieked in anger and hatred. He said they should be sent back before things changed too much.
There were over 300,000 immigrants of Indian origin in Britain by 1971. They were exceeded in number only by the Irish. People like my parent’s family came over to take up jobs in factories, in the National Health Service, as shopkeepers and much more. Powell and his supporters didn’t care that Indians were very hard-working and went on to prosper beyond their imagination. They believed British whites would suffer by mixing with Asians and blacks. He was afraid they wanted to buy houses next to white families or even follow their own religions.
Powell became too controversial to be government minister but his speech made him a martyr, even to this day. And now it looks like the ghost of Powell is making a comeback. Last week Simon Heffer, a well-known British newspaper commentator, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Theresa May is following Enoch Powell – by actually listening to what British people want”.
Britain may not be back in the 1960s yet but there are ominous signs it is heading back into the direction Enoch Powell wanted.A worryingly large number of Britons now think their communal hatred has become acceptable in wider society because of the referendum result. According to figures released last week, immediately after the Brexit vote, crime committed against people because of their race or religion jumped by 41%.
There have been a growing number of attacks on Britons of Asian and Eastern European origin. “Go back to where you came from” has become a fashionable insult, again. We knew this would happen. Most of the key political figures who campaigned to leave the European Union (EU) either made up or exaggerated scare stories about immigration. It became the driving force behind their crusade. So it’s not surprising that many Britons now think that having won the vote it’s time for immigrants to leave the country. They feel their racist views finally have justification and validation.
In the past, even as British politicians talked tough about immigration, the country had a relatively open policy. That is now changing. When she was home secretary, Theresa May had the bright idea of getting vans with a big sign saying “GO HOME” to drive around in areas of London dominated by families of Indian origin. Her department claimed they were only referring to illegal immigrants but the point she wanted to make was as clear as a bat-signal on a dark night.
Even before she gave her first speech as prime minister at the Conservative Party conference a few weeks ago, her team was sending out the signals. British companies must ‘list’ the number of foreign workers they employed, the Times newspaper reported. May wanted to ‘name and shame’ companies who employed too many foreigners, the Financial Times wrote.
Her speech went along the same lines: “Someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn’t seem fair,” she said.It doesn’t matter there is little evidence to show British workers overall are being undercut by workers from other countries. Facts are the first casualty when a politician is pandering to voters’ prejudices.
May’s Britain is saying to India’s brightest and best: You’re not welcome any more. And she’s right. They are not welcome any more. Not even the students who pay thousands of pounds a year just to study here. They are better off going to the United States or other countries where they will be appreciated.
The strict clampdown on immigration, which is in the works, will hit not just Indians looking to work in the UK, but also those looking to study, visit or join family here. It will also hit Indian companies looking to invest in Britain–who are now vital to British industry.
Make no mistake about it. Britain’s new PM Theresa May is set to deeply shake the economic and cultural ties between India and the UK. It is an act of aatmahatya that senior ministers are anticipating in the way suicide-bombers look forward to heaven.
May won’t ever make racist speeches like Powell did, but the atmosphere and impact created by her policies take Britain back to a darker past. The irony is that a nation that built its wealth by colonising other countries is saying it is better off shutting itself from the outside world.Sunny Hundal is a writer and lecturer on digital journalism based in London.The views expressed are personal.