PEOPLE AND EVENTS THAT DEFINED THE PAST 12 MONTHS AND HOPES FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
Thoughts on year-end: It seems like 2017 has gone very quickly. Looking back, I am saddened by the loss of two journalist colleagues – Daljit Sehbai, with whom I worked closely when he was president of the Indian Journalists’ Association; and Batuk Gathani, who would go through the Indian newspapers and email whatever he found interesting with lots of exclamation marks.
I had also wanted one last conversation with Maneck Dalal, who was regional director of Air India when I was still an undergraduate, but it was not to be.
Hopes for 2018: There are a few but it is a matter of great concern how so often when police arrest people for suspected terrorism, they turn out to be young Pakistanis or Bangladeshis.
I note that Archie Panjabi, whom I used to know well before she went to America, is to play the lead in the ITV drama Next of Kin, which she hopes will encourage debate about radicalisation. She is right when she says: “It seems to be an increasingly frequent
reality, so it’s something that affects each and every one of us who live in Britain today.”
So what’s the solution? Children in Britain do grow up to be very independent so parents are sometimes the last to know but they do need to intervene if they sense something is not quite right. If this cancer is not excised – and it is a cancer – the loyalty of all Asians will be questioned.
Radicalisation is probably the single biggest threat confronting the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities – and to the average member of Britain First
or UKIP, an Indian looks no different from them.
Will Theresa May still be prime minister this time next year? Probably yes. I agree with the assessment of the Financial Times which said: “Mrs May lost most of her authority with the bungled snap election. But the past few months have been kinder. “Sealing a Brexit divorce deal has ensured shortterm job security. So until Brexit is formally complete
in 2019, or an appealing alternative emerges, the Conservative party will keep her where she is. Remainers and Leavers alike wish to avoid a civil war that would be sparked by moving against her.
What was thought to be an unsustainable position is proving surprisingly sustainable.”
Maybe George Osborne was too quick to label her “dead woman walking”. In her new year message, she mentioned plans to mark the “70th birthday of our National Health
Service”; the “100th anniversary of the first votes for women”; and the “centenary of the end of the First World War”.
Perhaps it is worth reminding everyone, especially Asians born and brought up in Britain, that in the First World War, 1,440,500 men and women volunteered for service from the Indian Army. They fought on the Western Front, in Gallipoli, Persia, Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia. By the end of the war, 113,743 Indians were reported dead, wounded or missing. There are those who think that had it not been for Indian troops, Germany would have won.
How will Narendra Modi prepare for the 2019 general election? I’m not passing the buck; the prediction in the Financial Times is sober: “Mr Modi’s overnight ban on using high-value bank notes was a big shock, and seriously disrupted the economy. But it delivered rich political rewards, bolstering the premier’s image as a decisive leader willing to take tough action against corruption. With the next general elections due in 2019, Mr Modi will be tempted to deliver one more big bang to dazzle voters. Watch out for dramatic action against wealthy individuals holding properties in others’ names to hide their ownership.”
Is Brexit really going to happen? Theresa May has promised a “good Brexit” but what exactly is that? To my mind, that is staying in the single market and the customs union, but without agreeing to free movement of labour.
If Britain can get such a deal, there is no reason why it should not stay in the EU. The conventional argument is that the British people voted in favour of Brexit at the referendum, but since then, there appears to have been a change in the public mood as more people have become aware of the damaging consequences of pulling out of the EU. Lord Adonis, who resigned as chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said that “the European Union withdrawal bill is the worst legislation
of my lifetime”.
“If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction,” Adonis told the prime minister.
“Instead, by allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right to wrench Britain out of the key economic and political institutions of modern Europe, you are pursuing a course fraught with danger,” he admonished her.
The response of Brexit supporting papers and columnists has been to be pour abuse on him. But Adonis is one of a growing number of senior figures to oppose Brexit. Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable wants “an exit from Brexit”.
The intelligent course for the British government is to try to persuade the other 27 EU members to take a fresh look at free movement of labour. It does make sense for countries to be in charge of their own immigration policies. Free movement will only work if the EU economies are harmonised which, at present, they clearly are not.
If Jeremy Corbyn headed for No 10? Very unlikely, in my view. He is an earnest man, but he is wedded to wealth distribution through higher taxes rather than its creation.
In any case, he has shot himself in the foot as far as Indian voters are concerned by promising to interfere in Kashmir and reopening the debate about Operation Blue Star tragedy at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. And without Indian support in the marginals, he just won’t get an overall majority, however well Labour performs at the next election.
My instinct is that although Corbyn has gone much further than anyone might ever have expected, British voters will think very carefully before giving him the keys to No 10. That neither Seema Malhotra nor Virendra Sharma are in his shadow cabinet tells Indians all they need to know about Corbyn. He has set Indians against Pakistanis.
Will a second bloody revolution oust the ayatollahs from power in Iran? No. This is
a subject close to my heart since I was based in Teheran for many years. The population of Iran is now 80 million, up from 33 million when the Shah was overthrown in 1979, which means most Iranians have not known anything other than rule by the clergy.
It does surprise me, however, that the crowds have been chanting Marg barg Khamenei (death to Khamenei). But Iran’s current supreme leader, who never had the status of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founding father, is protected by an extensive security apparatus that includes the Revolutionary Guards.
The authorities will want to carry out sweeping executions of protesters, but such a
response might nudge Iran into civil war. If the Saudis, the CIA and others are tempted to slip arms to the opposition, there is the risk that Iran will become another Syria.
Verdicts: Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster magistrates’ court will decide whether businessman Vijay Mallya is extradited to India to face corruption charges.
Historic England will advise the culture secretary whether the India Club in the Strand is given listed status – I hope it is.
Uber’s appeal against Transport for London (TfL) for loss of
its licence will be heard – I hope it wins or negotiates a compromise deal with TfL.
Finally, words or phrases which defined 2017: Meghan; #MeToo; “70th anniversary of Indian independence”; and demonetisation.
- Views in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper