Out of my mind: An obsolete structure
When the discussions on India’s Independence were almost done, it was very much the wish of the British that India accept Dominion Status, remain in the Empire, renamed as British Commonwealth. But Jawaharlal Nehru would have none of it. He had led the Indian National Congress in a resolution of ‘Purna Swaraj’ on the banks of the Ravi in his first term as Congress president. So India became a Sovereign Democratic Republic on January 26, 1950.
Yet the desire to keep India in the imperial family remained. It was vital for the security of Great Britain, or so Whitehall thought. So there was a compromise and the British Commonwealth became the Commonwealth. But to avoid any illusions, the King Emperor remained the Head of the Commonwealth. When he died within two years, his daughter, the present Queen Elizabeth the Second, succeeded.
That was alright then because, except for India and Pakistan, the rest of the Empire had not come apart. But 65 years later, as the Commonwealth meets in London, it is a much-faded grandeur which it displays. Most countries are independent. Only the White Commonwealth is still with Dominion Status. What has delayed any serious thinking about the logic of the Commonwealth continuing as it is at present has been entirely due to the extraordinary longevity of the reign of the Queen. The Commonwealth as it has been can be easily called the Elizabethan Commonwealth.
The present CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) is the first since 1997 in London. It does not take too much imagination to guess that this will be the last CHOGM under the Queen’s leadership. The Empire having been reduced to a skeleton, the question has to be asked what is the best structure for the Commonwealth. There is a lot of activity to declare Prince Charles as the next Head of the Commonwealth. But there is no rule that the Headship is a prerogative of the British Monarch. It may have been obvious 60-odd years ago. But now that the world has changed and even more so have the countries of the Commonwealth, a more rational and legitimate structure ought to be put in place. Britain may be the founding kingdom but it is no longer a leading one.
That is obvious from the cloying schmoozing that is going on of India and other Commonwealth countries which have prospered since becoming free. The UK on the other hand is dealing with an existential crisis due to Brexit. Suddenly, after ignoring the Commonwealth for decades, the UK needs it. Like an errant husband returning to his old wife making protestations of eternal love, there is a pretence that the UK loves the Commonwealth and wants to build stronger economic ties. The UK needs the Commonwealth. India in particular is the flavour of the month and Modi the superstar with an invitation to stay at the Palace. How the times have changed.
The UK ought to surrender the idea of monarchic succession to the headship of the Commonwealth. To make it a genuine global organisation, it should create a council of five with one member from each continent. The headship can rotate. As a first step, Prince Charles should renounce his claim.
India forced a change in the Commonwealth back then; let it lead the new structure now.
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