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Sunday , October 23 , 2011
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Gaddafi: Cameron risks Ravana joke

David Cameron compared the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi with Ravana when he gave a reception for Hindus at 10 Downing Street, last week, only hours after news came through that the Libyan leader had been slain.

Earlier, Cameron had emerged from 10 Downing Street, and reminded the new leaders of Libya that if there were juicy contracts to be handed out during the reconstruction of their country, Britain ought to be first in line to receive expressions of their gratitude for facilitating regime change in Tripoli.

“I am proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who helped to liberate their country,” said Cameron, using diplomatic language, though his meaning was clear. “We will help them, we will work with them.”

He began: “I think today is a day to remember all of Colonel Gaddafi’s victims, from those who died in connection with the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, to (policewoman) Yvonne Fletcher in a London street, and obviously all the victims of IRA terrorism who died through their use of Libyan Semtex. We should also remember the many, many Libyans who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime.”

The previous British government, under Tony Blair, who went to Tripoli for a personal meeting with Gaddafi, adopted a policy of co-operation with the Libyan authorities in response to a promise of future good behaviour (it was being supplied with nuclear weapons technology by Pakistan).

At the Diwali reception for Hindus mainly representing temples in the UK, the Prime Minister showed off his grasp of the Ramayana: “Obviously Diwali being the festival of a triumph of good over evil, and also celebrating the death of a devil, perhaps there’s a little resonance in what I’m saying tonight.”

He praised the “great contribution” Hindus were making to the UK, singling out the ArcelorMittal Orbit designed by Anish Kapoor and funded by Lakshmi Mittal.

“I want to share this celebration with you, to celebrate what British Hindus do and the great contribution you make to our country,” he said. “And also warn you that in a minute my children will arrive because of all the parties we have in Downing Street they actually think that Diwali is by far the most exciting because of the lights, because of the colour, because of the flowers, because of the sweet drinks. They’ve almost converted, so probably tonight could be the key moment.”

Libyan lament

There is general rejoicing at the “death of a dictator” at Gaddafi’s passing among British commentators, but former editor and military historian Max Hastings urges caution.

He points out that “it is extraordinarily difficult for a country with no democratic traditions and institutions, riven by tribal rivalries, to forge a new government and adopt peaceful co-existence”.

His words in the Daily Mail make sense. “Recent history suggests that only at their peril do Western powers use force to promote regime change in the Muslim world. It will be remarkable if Libyan gratitude for Nato’s support persists through the months ahead.”

Hastings predicts that “the success or failure of the West’s armed intervention in Libya will properly be judged only a year or two down the track, when we discover whether what follows him is at least a little better”.

Diwali light

This year naked flames were banned on “health and safety” grounds when Hindus celebrated Diwali for the 10th successive year in the House of Commons.

In previous years, diyas were lit with matches in the traditional manner but tiny battery-operated lights were used last week.

Among the string of politicians of all parties who trooped in to deliver their Diwali greetings was the Tory party co-chairman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was applauded for demanding “proper diyas”.

Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in a Cabinet, appears to have enjoyed her recent first trip to India. “So much of what Diwali is all about is embodied when you go and visit such a great nation.”

“I actually say Diwali is an international festival,” she declared.

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband in his version of the Ramayana, he is the Bharata who stabs elder brother Rama (David) to seize the throne was greeted with shouts of “our next Prime Minister” by a few Indian women.

He claimed he had set about changing “our party’s relationship with the Hindu community because we are representative in every respect”.

“I am a second generation immigrant and I know many of the challenges immigrant communities face,” he added.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democratic deputy leader in the Commons, who is also just back from India, joked: “I notice the event is sponsored by a bank (the State Bank of India). The celebration of Diwali is partly to say prayers to Lakshmi to bring wealth and prosperity to the new financial year Britain needs wealth and prosperity. Open your windows, open your doors, and allow the spirit of Diwali to give us the prosperity. I have to say that if we need to look anywhere for prosperity, look to the Indian and the Hindu community.”

Knee jerk

With Gaddafi gone, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, may replace him as the principal hate figure for the British.

Gillard, the Labour leader who leads a coalition government much more precarious than the ones headed by either Manmohan Singh or David Cameron, has attracted fierce criticism for refusing to curtsey to the Queen who has arrived in Australia for a 10-day tour.

Gillard, a Republican who wants to get rid of the monarchy, compromised by inclining her head but did not drop a curtsey to the Queen.

At times like this, it is easy to appreciate the advantages of the all purpose Indian namaste. However, Shilpa Shetty did not fold her hands when she was fast tracked into having an audience of Her Majesty in the halcyon days after the actress has won Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

Although India House protocol has established there is no need for Indians to do so and the Queen is perfectly relaxed about Indian forms of greeting our Shilpa dropped a curtsey.

Samit summit

Samit Patel’s 70 not out and MoM award in the 3rd ODI will stand him in good stead in the past, the plump boy has been picked for indulging on his mother’s cooking. He has lost weight and gained status.

Tittle tattle

When I interviewed Col. Gaddafi, he had washed and blow-dried his hair, was wearing a fancy cloak, had lit a bonfire and brought along a mummy and baby camel to recreate the idyllic life of a nomad out in the desert. We were actually in the middle of Tripoli military barracks.

Perhaps the BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, should also have picked open-air venues.

Maybe this is a cultural thing or Gaddafi was trying to make the BBC man feel at home but Simpson recalls he needed a nose for a good story. This was because on one occasion Gaddafi “broke wind very audibly throughout the 40-minute recording session, without making the slightest effort to hide it”.

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