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Give us hope, Joanna

india Updated: May 24, 2009 22:41 IST

There were two institutions, said the then British Prime minister Harold Wilson, that no government could dare take on: the National Union of Mineworkers and the Brigade of the Gurkhas. Margaret Thatcher eventually brought the coal-diggers to their knees. But PM Gordon Brown’s sudden decision to accede to demands that all Gurkhas who served in the British army have the right to settle in Albion proves that the kukri remains as politically potent as it is militarily lethal. The Gurkhas found a remarkable ally in the very blonde presence of actress Joanna Lumley, Srinagar-born daughter of a Gurkha colonel, who led the soldiers into battle against the Mother of Parliaments.

The Gurkha cause was legally questionable: the tripartite treaty governing their hiring makes it clear they are to remain Nepali citizens all their lives. However, blocking their settlement right became politically untenable as the media kept digging up Victory Cross-bearing Gurkha veterans denied the right to settle because they lacked “strong ties” to England.

However, the continuing existence in the British army of what amounts to mercenary regiments from halfway across the world is an anachronism. British Gurkha soldiers are now paid wages close to their native-born brothers-in-arms. The settlement agreement may cost as much as two billion pounds – wiping out any economic reason for Britain to continue to hire Gurkhas. Lumley anyway will continue to conquer. Brown has graciously proposed her name for a damehood and, without irony, the reason is reported to be her tireless devotion to the cause of ex-servicemen.