The Queen is dead, long live the King −− By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch of British empire died on September 8th, at the age of 96 and since then the crazy 24x7 channels including BBC and CNN are minutely reporting every event related to her death. The funeral will take place on September 19th but till then people will watch various events and engagements of the Royal family, particularly the new King Charles III and his Consort. The Queen ruled for over 70 years and hence one can understand the feeling of loss by a nation which ruled a large part of the world. India too declared a one-day national moaning on September 11th. World leaders are expected to pay join the funeral procession on September 19th and London police is expecting massive gathering of people and leaders on that day.

This question comes for discussion many time as why United Kingdom despite being a robust democracy still hang on with Monarchy. The question become more important to countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand where anti Monarchy sentiments too are growing yet continue to remain part of the ‘Realm’. The conservative lobby in the United States remain aggressively pro monarchy and market forces have tapped their ‘popularity’. The disturbing point is as why British Royals are so popular with the American public who revolted against them so many years ago. There is a lot of anger among the natives in the Caribbean Islands and six countries had indicated that they wish to become republic in the coming years and these countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenadines. The process started with Barbados which became a republic on November 30th, 2021. Three other countries Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago became republics in the 1970s. Protesters in these countries have sought a formal apology for brutalisation and enslavement of the local people particularly Africans and compensate it through reparation. It is reported that over 14 million blacks were brought in the European Slave Trade to Caribbean and 10 million were used in  Arab Trade. These countries are out of the British Realm but still part of the 54 members Commonwealth. The question is how can the people who have been treated worst than animal rejoice being part of ‘Commonwealth’ which the Crown and elite in Britain feel so much proud off. 

India was ruled by the British Empire since 1858 till 1947 though prior to that East India Company had already started controlling India’s large part since 1757. After independence, India maintained good relations with Britain and a big Indian diaspora now live in UK which is hugely successful and politically influential. However, there are segments of people who feel as if the British had come to benefit them and these are two diversely opposed side. One, the Hindutva elite and their followers still ‘celebrate’ British as for them India’s enslavement started from Mughal period and hence British came as liberator for wider Hindu population. A big section of Ambedkarite too feel that British opened door of ‘liberation’ for them through education. Recently, a fox TV anchor was widely criticised when he ‘counted’ the greatness of British empire in his show.  Anchor Tucker Carlson said, The British Empire was not perfect, but it was far more humane than any other ever. It's gone now, barely even remembered. Queen Elizabeth II was the last living link to a truly Great Britain. Today on social media, the usual ghouls celebrated her death. "May her pain be excruciating," a Carnegie Mellon professor called Uju Anya wrote on Twitter of the queen. "May she die in agony." When the U.S. government withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years, we left behind airstrips, shipping containers and guns. When the British pulled out of India, they left behind an entire civilization, a language, a legal system, schools, churches and public buildings, all of which are still in use today. Here's the train station the English built in Bombay, for example. There's nothing like that in Washington, DC right now, much less in Kabul or Baghdad. Today, India is far more powerful than the UK, the nation that once ruled it and yet, after 75 years of independence, has that country produced a single building as beautiful as the Bombay train station that the British colonialists built? No, sadly, it has not. Not one.”

Unfortunately, there are many who share Tucker’s views about the British Raj in India without acknowledging the fact that Indian civilisation and great architecture of Buddhist, Rajputs, Mughal, Maurya architecture, Cholas and many others were already visible in India. To suggest that India did not have the kind of structure like VT Railway Station of Mumbai only reflect of Victorian arrogance.  The British ruled in India for such a long period that it was impossible for them to rule without involving local people in their administration. There is no doubt they created vast Railway network so that the expensive timber from the Himalayas can be transported to Kolkata port comfortably. As they needed an effective and loyal bureaucracy who can interact with them, they promoted English language and brought some reforms. There is no doubt that many things which look positive to us are not because the British wanted but it was a collateral benefit. Of course, the quality of their work is no doubt far superior to the things we are doing it today whether it is the bridges or train tracks or railway stations.  

There is no doubt that being a ‘neutral’ party whose only interest were to exploit India’s vast mineral resources for the benefit of their society and country, the British had better attitude in handling the issues of Caste question and untouchability. The simple question any one can ask is that without British the whole question of participation of the marginalised communities in political and power structure would have been difficult if not impossible. Whether it was in their own interest or they wanted to reform British policy of English education helped the marginalised sections to some extent otherwise the upper caste elite would not have allowed the Dalits to come up to their level politically, socially and economically. Apart from providing us laws even when the aim was to control us but it ultimately helped us. India became the biggest English-speaking country of the world which helped Indian community to become a powerful group in diaspora.  Despite all this, the fact remain that British did not come to India to liberate us but to reap its economic power. India’s foreign Minister S Jaishankar in a programme informed that British loot in India was close to $45 trillion as per today’s estimates. Says, JaiShankar,” “India had two centuries of humiliation by the West in its predatory form it came to India in the mid-18th century. An economic study tried to estimate how much British took out of India, it ended up at a number of $45 trillion in today’s value,”. 

Eminent Economist Prof Utsa Patnaik calculated this figure of GP 45 trillion loot from India. In an interview she says, “Between 1765 and 1938, the drain amounted to £9.2 trillion (equal to $45 trillion), taking India’s export surplus earnings as the measure, and compounding it at a 5% rate of interest. Indians were never credited with their own gold and forex earnings. Instead, the local producers here were ‘paid’ the rupee equivalent out of the budget—something you’d never find in any independent country. The ‘drain’ varied between 26-36% of the central government budget. It would obviously have made an enormous difference if India’s huge international earnings had been retained within the country. India would have been far more developed, with much better health and social welfare indicators. There was virtually no increase in per capita income between 1900 and 1946, even though India registered the second largest export surplus earnings in the world for three decades before 1929”.

Ironically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating the grand of statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose at the India gate where Rajpath has been renamed as ‘Kartvyapath’. Modi called to do away with the symbols of slavery and be proud of being Indian. However, Narendra Modi was among the first to respond to the death of the Queen, giving a very ‘personalised’ message on twitter : 

“ Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered as as stalwart of our times. She provided inspiring leadership to her nation and people. She personified dignity and decency in public life. Pained by her demise. My thoughts are with her family and people of UK in this sad hour.”

He further said, ‘ I had memorable meetings with Her Mejasty Queen Elizabeth II during my UK visits in 2015 and 2018. I will never forget the warmth and kindness. During one of the meetings she showed me the handkerchief Mahatma Gandhi gifted her on her wedding. I will always cherish that gesture

The government of India declared a national moaning on September 11th though many people questioned it but realistically it was done as per the traditions and many countries are doing so. We can not ignore our relationship with British empire whether it was good or bad. Important for all to learn from history and move ahead. In the modern world, we know the importance of Great Britain and our relationship with them though both the countries view the relationships from a different perspective. For the British, India is the biggest country of the ‘Commonwealth’ but as an Indian, we don’t know anything about Commonwealth except for the games where Indians look performing better than any other international event. The historical fact is that Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru played an extremely important role to be part of Commonwealth just because he gave importance to India’s relationship. It was on his insistence ‘Republics’ who were part of British Commonwealth but now do not have Queen as its head, were allowed to be part of it. Today, even countries like Rwanda who were never part of British empire have officially joined Commonwealth. Perhaps, the power is that it brings diverse countries together who had commonality in the form of British Raj. All these countries are now ‘power house’ and can become strong trading partners. Anyway, Commonwealth mean nothing for us except for that historical lineage but as I mentioned earlier this has a different meaning for the British Empire particularly the Monarchy which uses it to describe their power. The fact is that The Queen or the King is head of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland apart from Australia, Canada and New Zealand and 14 other countries now part of the British Realm. 

While the sentiment of being a Republic or having their own monarchy has been strong enough in most of the Asian, African and Caribbean countries which formed part of British Empire and later gained independence, the stand of the ruling elite in Australia, Canada and New zealand look intriguing. Why these countries don’t have the sentiments like India and others in the Indian subcontinents in relation to Monarchy?  And the harsh reality is that ‘experts’ like Tucker Carlson are plenty in the United States and leadership from both the Republican and Democrats really love to have the ‘special’ relationship with the monarchy. It is not without reason that the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan Markel drew 29.2 million views on the various television channels. Their popularity remains equally high in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Important to decode this relationship of these countries with British monarchy.

Monarchy is dynasty 

When an Indigenous member of parliament refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen, she was asked to redo it. Now, every member of Parliament in Victoria state of Australia has to take an oath of allegiance to the new King Charles III as done by the British Parliament. The heads of states have to do the same in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.  Monarchy is dynasty and look absolutely at odd with the modern democratic principles. When Prince Charles was being officially declared as the new King and we saw how the entire British Parliament of Lords and Commons stood for hours to listen to the king. There was not even a space for them to sit. All of them looked like old courtiers in the Raj Darbar, a highly unlikely scenario in any democracy. 

Now, dynasty is often used in India for the Gandhi family. Can there be a bigger irony that the person and family who is being blamed as ‘dynast’ actually is walking in the streets of India to win over the hearts of the people, facing the onslaught of the ruling elite which continue to use the term dynasty for one family. The Rajas and Maharajas who are the role models of the political and religious rights of India were the original dynasts but we never ever critique them. In politics, there can not dynasty as they have to follow all procedures and if the public don’t want them, they won’t be able to come back. Rahul Gandhi and other Gandhis are not in power in real sense since 1989 after Rajiv Gandhi lost his elections. Rahul Gandhi does not have the same privilege as that of the Prince Charles who became the King without any questions being raised anywhere and all the big parliaments of the world actually clapping for his ascendency. The Gandhis are out of power for so long and will only come back if people want it through a democratic process yet are demonised the most for being ‘dynast’.  

British Monarchy is definitely the most powerful institution which has kept the country united and is a symbol of the Empire. So somewhere, it is a ‘feelgood’ factor for not merely the British but also for the other European settlers in the America, Canada , Australia and New Zealand. Somewhere, the Royals have survived because of this ‘connectivity’ with the ‘glorious’ past where every body want to associate. In the liberal democracies it is difficult to spent money on building big castles, palaces but people love those royalties and their style. In the capitalist societies now questions are not asked about the wrongs done but ‘celebrate’ the ‘grandeur’   as a big market event’. The people still love to have those ‘fairy tales’ of King and Queen or Prince and Princesses and perhaps the royalty in UK provide each one of us to ‘quench’ our insatiable thirst of knowing everything about their personal lives. So royalty is now a new magnet which might not have the political power but soft cultural power to influence the market and the power elite. British Royalty and their public actions are marketed by this elite in the United States and elsewhere to justify their own obscene wealth and spending. Look at the political elite standing in front of the new king like courtier suggest clearly that they understand the soft cultural power of the royalty and hence can’t do anything remote even to challenge their authority or relevance. 

The Real question is the issue of Sovereignty of the indigenous people

It is not that there are no murmurs against monarchy but the fact is it is not merely the question of monarchy verses democracy it looks clearly and visibly that Monarchy is actually the symbol of white supremacism or ‘glorious days’ of white world. It is this feeling perhaps that keep the right wingers’ white supremacists in the United States supporting the Royals and media obligingly promote them in the market or perhaps vice versa. A question to monarchy means a question about annihilation of the indigenous people and their culture in US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. To put it in simple world the ‘greatness’ of Monarchy lies in actually ensuring the white supremacy in all these countries which were the domain of indigenous communities. All these countries saw the biggest demographic changes where the indigenous people were pushed more towards the forest areas while European settlers annexed their land and natural resources. The policy was not merely pushing the indigenous communities to nothing but strangely and shockingly, all these ‘great’ countries have rarely given them Constitutional recognition. The treaties that happened with the Crown have been forgotten. A simple question can be asked as where are the indigenous people in the government structure of these countries which claim to provide ‘affirmative action’ for minorities and immigrants. Why so much of hatred towards the original inhabitants of these countries. The question of treatment to indigenous people has been perhaps the darkest chapter of the history of the British Raj.  The dirty fact is that it did not merely ‘isolated’ and further marginalised the ‘indigenous people’ but also brought ‘slaves’ from Africa to the Americas but did not give them dignity and human rights. The main reason for that seemed denying the local communities and crush their movement for their rights. When King George III ‘abolished’ slavery on March 25th, 1807, they had already made another plan for their huge farm land in the Caribbean and in Africa. They developed a new term in place of ‘slavery’ and it was ‘Indentured labors’ or what they called Contractual labors. These ‘labors’ were taken from India and other colonies of the British and other European colonisers to Americas particularly in the Caribbean where the European settlers had huge sugarcane farms. This created a conflict of interest between the local communities and those brought from outside after the British left. The Raj used the contractual labors to ignore the local communities or perhaps to ‘teach’ them a lesson. A majority of those who were taken from India on false promises were people from the most marginalised sections of our society, the Dalits and backward castes. These people were dumped in agricultural farms thousands of kilometers away in colonies in the Caribbean and in Africa. A clash with local communities was therefore inevitable. The people suffered indignities, loss of culture and their relationship with near dear ones. 

In India too, the British never apologized for Jalianwallah massacre on April 13th, 1919 in which officially 379 people were killed but the unofficial count is said to be around 1,500 deaths. The hanging of Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters as well as brutalities inflicted on people of India remain a dark chapter in the history of Raj. There are many other chapters of brutalities and exploitation of India by the British. India can not ignore or forget the Bengal famine in 1943 and how Prime Minister Churchill was responsible for 3 million deaths in Bengal due to it. Monarchy can not ignore the fact that it did nothing to protect Indians. It never had any regret related to the same. Churchill blamed Indians for ‘breeding like rabbits’ and denied India 1 million ton wheat that was requested by the Viceroy to tackle with the Bengal famine. 

The crisis of Asia today is actually the ‘gift’ of the British Raj to its former colonies. Whether the issue of border dispute between India, Pakistan and China or issue of Tibet as well as Jammu Kashmir, the role in keeping these issues deliberately on the boil was a British strategy to keep playing the role of a ‘mediator’. The mistrust is so deepening between different countries that any adventure can bring the world close to perhaps the biggest disaster in human history as three nuclear nations have border disputes with each other. The denial of right to exist as an independent nation to Palestine has today become the biggest threat to world peace.

So, why is the British Monarchy so much popular with the people and in democracies. One factor, which I have already explained is the sense of history and power of the British Empire but there are many other factors which we need to understand that make the British better than others.

Change with modern time and strengthened democracy

One of the biggest contradictions or ironies of the Raj was that most of our political leadership actually got their ‘education’ in the prestigious colleges and Universities in England. Britain was a super power not because of its military might but because during the Raj, it progressed in industrialization, literature, liberalism and sports. The British might have come to us as ‘explorers’ or ‘invaders’ yet they not only documented our best and worst practices but provided us huge infrastructure. As a country Britain might have colonised so many countries and people but as a society and a governance structure it built credible and knowledgeable institutions, respected freedom to expression and individual choices. It is also a fact that slavery was not invented by the British but it was already being used by the local chieftains and British ‘learnt’ the trick and magnified it since they were the ‘business’ people. What could be the biggest irony is that most of the leaders, opposition leaders, social movement leaders, dissenters, publishers who are unable to get along with their respective governments found a space to breathe and enjoy in United Kingdom. Even today, UK is perhaps one of the most diverse countries in the world. A travel in the London Tube will explain you the power of this diversity that UK enjoy more than any other country. 

People from their former colonies who are now residing in UK enjoyed the life and opportunities provided by this country. Anti-Colonial feeling evaporate as the political and intellectual elite which build up narrative lives in UK and other part of the Western world, enjoy the fruits of liberal democracies. This feeling has deepened in many places that the Goras were better because of failure of the democratic institutions in our parts of the world where the heroes of anti-colonial struggle could not develop any credible institutions and became bigger than their institutions. Except for India, where Jawahar Lal Nehru was a hugely popular leader and respected by the masses who build up institutions and was a thorough democrat, rest of the world saw the anti-colonial heroes becoming despots in their own countries. 

The strength of the West particularly United Kingdom is the system that they created for themselves where autonomy of the institutions flourished and people enjoyed not only rights to live with dignity but there was no interference in your personal lives. Contrary to this, all the countries which got rid of the Colonialism actually were unable to provide an autonomous governance structure. The ethnic crisis escalated and right-wing political leadership grew everywhere. With science and technology, we saw growth of fundamentalism and fake nationalism and severe erosion of democratic values which remain on paper. Look at South Asia, the majoritarian nationalism is not able to digest people from minorities. The Hindus don’t want Muslims in India, the Muslims don’t like Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Buddhist hate Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka ignoring the historical fact that we lived together.  More than 75 years have passed since the British left us and in India we had the right priorities in the beginning but today India want to follow the capitalist model without addressing the issue of social inequality and the result is growth of brahmanical dominance and violence on minorities and marginalised.

Britain still offer us a lot for introspection and correction. In July 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally admitted defeat of being a minority in his own Conservative party and resigned. To elect a new leader, the process in UK take three month as those who are interested to contest the leadership race have to go to their voting members of the party. If there are more members, the final race will have to be between the two. The process was completed just a couple of days before the Queen died. Liz Truss became the new prime minister when the Queen invited her to form the next government. Can you think such a process in India where leaders will cling unless thrown out? And these days the pattern in India is unambiguously clear that if any one try to dissent from the government, he or she will soon have Enforcement Directorate (ED) or intelligence agencies officer asking for his financial and other details. The misuse of government machinery against political opponents have become order of the day in our part of the world. I can never imagine that we can have that much of patience to elect a new leader where money bags are ready to buy your members of Parliament and assemblies. 

Finally, look at The Queen’s funeral process and its management which provide big opportunity to our security agencies and those who manage big events. It is always fascinating how things are managed in Britain where people enjoy the process without much fuss. In June 2002, I was visiting Nepal when the news of royal family’s massacre came on the Television. I was schedule to participate in an international event but got the information very late and it was difficult those days to contact people as communication was still difficult. There was no taxi at the Kathmandu airport when I arrived but good thing was that I found Shri Anand Swroop Verma, Editor, Samkaleen Teesari Duniya and we had to walk to reach the house of a friend where I had to stay in the night. It was difficult to reach anywhere. On the radio and TV, the announcement was being made that people should ‘shave off’ their head and should not eat ‘salt’ for a week as per the Hindu tradition. The cremation of the King and his family happened immediately the next day without giving people enough time to pay their respect to their beloved royal family. The reason was because of the ‘needle of suspicion’  was not on the late King’s son who himself got killed but on the King Gyanendra and his family. Anyway, the entire process of coronation of the new King was so empty and filthy that one would just hate the system. At the time when the country was in shock, the new King could not really connect with the people.

In India we have seen the death of our political leaders. If it is a violent death then it is difficult for politician to keep quiet and speak for peace. They want to use it. The biggest problem in our part of the world is politicisation of the process who make it massive, unorganized and unmanageable. Of course, people have love for the leader and they want to see the body, touch it and go near the cremation place but that create huge issues of security and protocol for those who have to manage the things peacefully. Contrary to this, look at the way things are being managed in London which not only gives an opportunity for all of us to see how even a death can be celebrated with great dignity and without making much fuss of it. 

The process of proclamation of the new King is dignified as it follows all the procedure but it does not look awkward. The entire Royal family follow all the processes, right from meeting the people to giving a personal touch to the entire event which make them dear to the people. The British monarchy is a democratic institution which has kept people attached to its ‘glorious’ past, ofcourse, it is not so glorious for many but it survived because it rarely interfered in the democratic process and moved with the passage of time. Unlike many other countries where monarchy interfered in the political process every moment, the British Royal kept them relevant by remaining irrelevant to the political process. 

For the former colonies of British Empire, we have a right to question their motives and loss of inheritance as well as exploitation of our resources but nothing will move unless we as a society and as a nation do not democratise our entire process, built up independent institutions, bring our diverse communities together and not to make them fight against each other for our narrow political goals, develop credible education system which open up the minds of our scholars. It is a fact that power elite controlled the system and British caused us enormous loss but the same question can be asked by the Dalits and Adivasis in India to its brahmanical elite whether they ever thought of apologising to these communities for the historical wrongs done to them snatching their right to education to right to own land and property. We all have our dark chapters and the best way forward is to build up a humane, rule based society which ensure each one of us get opportunity to flourish and live our life with respect and dignity. Colonialism is past but capitalism is the new form of it carrying it forward through our elite class, educated young, scholars, doctors and engineers have been exported to their ‘former’ colonial masters and back home we ‘clap’ for them as ours while they serve the purpose of the latter. The process will continue as long as we have inability to create credible institutions, Universities and colleges. Now, you cant blame the colonial power all the time as they will only say what have you done yourselves when you got the opportunity to rule. We are divided more than ever at the moment and we can not blame the British for the same when those who rule us create a false nationalism whose only meaning is to create two kind of citizens, one with the rights and other as an occupied one. We need to learn from our own faults and now we can not blame the colonial masters for all the evils that we have today and are unable to resolve our crisis. Caste discrimination and untouchability was not the creation of the British in our part of the world and even after seventy years, we are unable to remove it and fight against it shows our political commitments towards it.

Isn’t it a fact that our democratic rulers are worst than the monarchy with obscene love for ‘royalty’ and its style. Look the way our ‘netas’ live and spent money luxuriously on their ‘safety’ ‘security’. The Coffin of Queen Elizabeth travelled in a small cavalcade of 6 car with a ‘security’ protocol on the ‘bike’. Is it possible to have the similar in India. A local MPs cavalcade carry more than fifty cabs and if a Chief Minister move from one place to another, we stop the traffic and the cavalcade will have more than 100 vehicles of different variety. If the Prime Minister travel than you can not imagine what will happen. Have we ever seen our prime minister meeting people in person, shaking hand with them?

There is a big cultural difference. Feudalism is part of our structure and even we call ourselves democratic, our political leaders are our mybaap, and common person look towards them as a messiah. We don’t look towards our leaders as a fellow human being but as somebody specially created. The result is we are a democratic monarchy where we elect a new monarch as prime minister whose words and actions only reflect monarchy even if he talks about democracy. A feudal and caste ridden society can not create a powerful democracy unless we become socially democratic as Baba Saheb Ambedkar said and India need to do much more in this regard. Shashi Tharoor’s reparation demand from the British would have sound ideologically correct if he had also spoken about the dirty caste system and whether the brahmanical elite in India will do the same as it is demanding from the British.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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