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  Opinion   Columnists  14 Jun 2024  Farrukh Dhondy | After the D-Day fiasco, Sunak blundering on as July 4 nears

Farrukh Dhondy | After the D-Day fiasco, Sunak blundering on as July 4 nears

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Jun 15, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 15, 2024, 12:05 am IST

Prime Minister's Rishi Sunak campaign under fire as gaffes and divisive policies stir controversy.

 Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak addresses the audience during a Sky News election event in Grimsby, northeast England, on June 12, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau / POOL / AFP)
  Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak addresses the audience during a Sky News election event in Grimsby, northeast England, on June 12, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau / POOL / AFP)

“Flowers don’t bloom to regale us with beauty

They bloom to attract bees

And hope they’ll do their duty

Of spreading their seed in new soil –

They don’t bloom to bring us scents and sights

--A delusion I’m compelled to spoil.”

From Yeh Yeh Millan, by Bachchoo

Hedgie Soongone called a general election in Britain for July 4 and as the campaigns of the different parties began, he was featured in a widely circulated photograph with an illuminated sign above him saying “EXIT”.

It wasn’t the only PR blunder by his team. They sent poor Hedgie to Belfast to the site where the Titanic was built. While there, he was inevitably asked whether he was “captaining a sinking ship”. His team should have seen that coming.

It’s self-evidently true to insist that the crew of the Titanic didn’t in any way construct the iceberg that it collided with. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said of Hedgie’s campaign team. On June 5 and 6, the Allies and even their then enemy, Germany, held memorial ceremonies for D-Day, the crucial landing of the Allied forces in Normandy, France, which led to the victory of the American, British and French forces over Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The US and French Presidents attended together with Germany’s Chancellor. Hedgie was sent in by his team for the first memorial ceremony but left early to be interviewed in Britain on TV for his election campaign.

“Disrespectful Disaster” is my summary of the media’s reaction to this massive PR blunder. Hedgie apologised. Will the patriotic Brits forgive and forget by July 4?

His now arch-rival, Nigel Farage, who leads the right-wing Reform Party and is hoping the Tories are wiped out and he and Reform can replace them as the Opposition, was quick to claim that Hedgie and his party didn’t understand the historically inspired sentiments of the British people. Farage, as slippery as ever, had through this dog-whistle, passed the implied message to his constituency that a PM of Asian origin simply couldn’t have any allegiance to British historical sentiment -- but Nigel is extremely wily and immediately followed the assertion, so as to avoid any slurs of “racist rhetoric”, with the statement that one-third of the force that fought in World War II and defeated the Nazis were from the now Commonwealth nations. Even so, I don’t think the Commonwealth memorialises D-Day.

As Hedgie’s blunders and gaffes multiply, the Labour Party’s lead, as estimated by the opinion polls, remains above the 20 per cent figure. Hedgie, in desperation, has announced in his party’s manifesto a cut of two per cent in National Insurance -- a sort of tax return. Will it make a difference to the electorate’s choice? Maybe -- dekha jayega!

One of the bizarre pledges that his Conservative Party has announced is the introduction of compulsory National Service for all eighteen-year-olds. It’s a sort of amateur conscription. They can compulsorily serve as cadets or some such in the Army or do some hard-graft “community service”. His party’s strategists reason that the 18-year-olds would rather throw their mobile phones down the toilet than vote for the Tories and so they are relying on oldies to be their electoral base. And rightly, or wrongly, they characterise these older voters as, in some sense, convinced that today’s 18-year-olds are idlers and scroungers and should face state-inspired discipline.

Now, unless the blundering British Civil Service mistakes 80 for 18, I am relatively safe from being called up to join this UK conscription. Let me tell you, gentle reader, that if the bureaucracy blunders and does call me up, I already know how to dismantle a Bren gun and put it together again -- or at least I hope I remember how it’s done when presented with the automatic weapon. I am not that much of a dinosaur to not contemplate the possibility that the Bren has long been replaced by other more lethal killers, as I learnt this skill when I was compulsorily recruited to India’s National Cadet Corps at the age of 17 or 18.

In the wake of India’s virtual defeat in the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government instituted a compulsory National Cadet Corps for all college students, male and female. One could opt out of this “national service” by attending PE classes at 6 am throughout the year. I naturally opted for national service and was enlisted, with several college friends, in the Armoured Corps regiment of the NCC in Pune (then Poona). So, to parades twice a week and two annual camps during the holidays where the rural-born sergeants and corporals would delight in severely training and taxing us city lads.

God, they were tough. When a lad fell on his face from the front rank of the assembled parade, knocked out by sunstroke, the sergeant shouted: “Who the hell gave you the order to fall out?”

The one great integrating factor was that at the annual camp our urban company lived side by side for two weeks with lads from rural colleges. That certainly contributed, in whatever negligible way, to some kind of mutual understanding.

We made friends.

Britain has its comprehensive schools which mix the middle and working classes so that “integration” has gone much further in the UK than, say, in India. So that won’t be a benefit of Hedgie’s conscription proposal.

But will the proposal win my vote? I challenge you to guess. (A free entry into the Nigerian Lottery for the first to get it right!)


Tags: rishi sunak british pm, uk election 2024, uk conservative party