London – Never underestimate the power of television – or celebrity.
Campaigners fighting for thousands of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who served in Britain's military to be given the right to live in Britain appear to have won a major victory in their struggle with the British government (for our previous coverage of the struggle, click here).
The dust is only now settling after a week of political theater in which a glamorous British actress spearheading the campaign used an impromptu live television press conference with an immigration minister to extract assurances from him that left Gurkha campaigners quietly confident of achieving their goals.
Current rules would give residency rights only to some 4,300 former Gurkha soldiers, which falls well short of demands that such rights they be granted to all 36,000 Nepalese veterans who served with the British army before 1997 – the year when the Gurkha's headquarters moved from Hong Kong to Britain.
After a rejection by British parliamentarians last week of a government proposal to allow an additional limited number to settle here, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced personally to take charge of the row and come up with new plans.
British actress Joanna Lumley, whose father commanded Gurkhas in World War II, said after meeting with Mr. Brown on Wednesday that she believed she could trust him, and that the Gurkhas were counting on him to help them.
But she and fellow activists were furious when it emerged the next day that a number of retired Gurkhas, including veterans of the Falklands and Persian Gulf wars, had received letters telling them that they could not stay in Britain after all.
Phil Woolas, a minister overseeing immigration policy, was forced onto the airwaves in bid to defuse their anger and insist that the letters were not outright rejections. He then ended up making a sheepish television appearance alongside the actress. During the appearance, Ms. Lumley announced (see it here) that Mr. Woolas had told her that rulings rejecting Gurkha veterans' rights to settle in Britain will be reconsidered.
The immigration minister was left nodding in agreement as the actress said that the cases of 1,500 outstanding Gurkha applicants would all be looked at "most sympathetically."
Lawyers from the campaign say they will now work with the government to forge new guidelines governing Gurkha veterans' settlement rights.
One of those lawyers, Martin Howe, told the Monitor: "We now have an invitation to sit down with the minister and I am looking forward to that. The fact is that Parliament expressed its will on April 29 and specified that the government should immediately withdraw the current guidelines and allow parity of treatment between all Gurkhas, and that no matter when they retired they should be allowed to stay if they have served for four years.
"We already won last year in a court ruling, we have won in the media, in parliament, and in people's minds, but there is just was one last hurdle to get over. If moral judgment comes into it, then we should win."