Out of my mind: A milestone

A crusading newspaper and an active vigilant Parliament can bring about radical change. Indian parliamentarians should try it some time. It is better than rushing to the Well of the Lok Sabha.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published: May 6, 2018 12:24:01 am
Out of my mind: A milestone Sajid Javid is one of many immigrants or children of immigrant parents in the two Houses of British Parliament. (Reuters photo)

On the last day of April 2018, Sajid Javid, the British-born son of immigrant parents of Pakistani origins, became the Home Secretary of the UK. It is the first time a non-White person has occupied a major position in the British Cabinet. There are as many ironies here as achievements.

April is the month in which 99 years ago British forces fired on unarmed people in Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab. If there was one incident which marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire, it was that day. April is also the month in which, 50 years ago, Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP and then a member of the shadow cabinet, made his most incendiary racist speech, saying that he could see rivers flowing with blood as a result of immigration of Black and Brown people from the Commonwealth. He feared these immigrants would flood the country.

To add to the series of ironies, the Commonwealth Heads of Government had just concluded their conference in the first half of April in the midst of which an explosive news item was released by The Guardian newspaper. Immigrants had come from the Caribbean 70 years ago in a ship called Windrush. They had faced a lot of discrimination but over the years been absorbed in the British society. Or so they thought. It emerged from the news report that not all of them had bothered to get a passport. Some of them had found, after 70 years of living in the UK, that they were being classified as illegal immigrants. The Home Office was engaged in a campaign to deport them.

This campaign was initiated during the years when Theresa May, now prime minister, was home secretary. The Conservative Party was pledged to reduce immigration by tens of thousands. It was meant against immigrants from Eastern Europe. That was illegal as they were citizens of the European Union and entitled to free movement across the Union. This was one reason why the British people narrowly voted for Brexit.

The Guardian story was dynamite. Questions were asked of Home Secretary Amber Rudd in the House of Commons about the truth of the story. Was there a target list of undesirables to be expelled in the files of Home Office? Was there a hostile culture towards the Afro-Caribbean residents of UK? She tried to fob off the criticism, said there was no such campaign or that she did not know. Further news leaks from her office published by The Guardian sunk her and finally on April 29 she resigned.

A crusading newspaper and an active vigilant Parliament can bring about radical change. Indian parliamentarians should try it some time. It is better than rushing to the Well of the Lok Sabha.

Thus out of an anti-immigration campaign which smacked of old-style racism comes the milestone appointment of the first non-White Home Secretary. He, of course, is not an immigrant; just the child of immigrant parents. There can be no second-generation immigrant, regardless of colour or place of origin of parents or religion. But immigrants can also participate as citizens in politics.

Sajid is one of many immigrants or children of immigrant parents in the two Houses of Parliament. Old Blighty is getting colourful.

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