As I watched Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on CBC and then on a South Asian Indian channel, later that night, I could not but think of the common elements both Canada and India share when it comes to the British.
While the Queen still plays a ceremonial and symbolic role in Canada, in India all things British have a subtle influence on Indians even after 66 years after British rule ended in India.
And that’s pretty understandable because the Brits ruled India for almost 200 years and that kind of influence isn’t likely to go away easily.
Just like the CBC, in India too, several special correspondents from India were sent to cover former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral but also to interview many MPs of Indian descent in the British Parliament.
But coming back to Thatchers’ funeral, one other common element India and Britain share is that both had women prime ministers who not only were the first women to head a democracy, but both these women ruled their respective countries for the longest time.
Britain had Thatcher who ruled Britain from 1979 -1990 and India had Indira Gandhi. The daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawarhalal Nehru, she too headed India as the longest serving Indian prime minister to date with her rule extending for almost 15 years.
But that’s not where the similarities end. Both women have been extremely controversial figures in their respective countries. As I saw the images, the comments on the Internet and the silent protests of some Brits at her funeral, I was really taken aback. Just the manner in which Thatcher divided Britain was overwhelming. The hate, especially at a funeral, was not easy to digest at first.
As an Indian who has been taught from the beginning that “we don’t talk ill of the dead,” the hate comments fazed me and I thought they were in poor taste. But then as a journalist, as I sifted through it, I realized that that’s the price you pay when you are a public figure.
As well, media reports say that she was responsible for closing several unions and factories while putting workers out of an income and subsequently in great poverty. And that is a big pill to swallow. I guess for those who were affected by her decisions it did not matter — funeral or no funeral, because, as the saying goes: the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.
As for Gandhi, she was an equally divisive figure in Indian politics.
Bold, and highly educated, she too was responsible for making India more self sufficient and modern but her iron rule did not go well with many in India.
One of the biggest and most controversial times of her legacy was when she ordered the Indian military to storm the gates of the sacred Golden Temple in Punjab, India to root out militants who were hiding there. At the time, the Sikhs were demanding an independent nation separate from India called Khalistan. Unfortunately, Gandhi died when she was gunned down by her very own body guards, shortly after this episode.
However, both women brought pride and joy to millions around the world and especially in their country as they put their country on the international map, and were an inspiration to millions of women in their country, which cannot be said of most politicians today.