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The lady who wouldn’t turn

world Updated: Jan 20, 2012 00:47 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

In 1989 India House had a distinguished visitor — Margaret Thatcher. She was to unveil a bust of Indira Gandhi. Wearing a striking dark magenta dress, she was ushered in by India’s high commissioner Maharaj Krishna Rasgotra.

India’s envoy began his introduction: “It is often said,” said he, “that Mrs Thatcher is the only man in her cabinet.” Predictably, and with a certain weariness in her tone, the Iron Lady issued a gentle but firm rebuke, spoken into the mike.

Rasgotra, who had known Thatcher since her days as Education Secretary, was swift to apologise, but he wasn’t the first man she had slapped down.

The narrative thread of one woman against the world runs through the new film The Iron Lady. This is a woman who once strode on the world stage with an ideological clarity that would defeat Communism, and who must now struggle to make sense of it all — the present and the past — as she slips in and out of the vicious grip of dementia.

Around me, in the cinema, were some 25 women — all in their 70s. We were three men. What gender divide? As Lady Thatcher, played with astonishing perfection by Meryl Streep, brushes aside her pacifist male ministers opposed to the Falklands war with a “They started it, I’ll finish it”, an aged man in front of me burst out, “Hear, hear!”

Struggling to cope with the aftershocks of the financial crisis and grimly contemplating the prospects a new recession, Britain in 2012 has given The Iron Lady largely a warm reception. That Britons are not standing up on their feet and whooping up and down the cinema aisles is because of the country’s ideological history and Thatcher’s controversial legacy.

Her many critics say that in her zeal to crush trade unions and socialism, Thatcher destroyed manufacturing, turning Britain into an individualistic society. To them, the greedy bankers who have brought the global economy to its knees are all Thatcher’s children.

But that’s not the whole truth. As PM David Cameron prepares plans for a rapid scaleup of British military presence on the Falklands, Britain will have to flip back the pages of history. Back to Thatcher, who knew how to punch above her weight, handbag and all.