by Anand Chauhan
Recently, two significant events in the United Kingdom captured the attention of global media. Both affairs are intrinsically closed to Indian Community. Queen Elizabeth II’s demise in September generated a range of reactions; the British were mourning, but what about India? What does the Queen’s demise mean for India?
When Queen was born in 1926, India was still a British colony, but it had been independent for over five years by the time she became Britain’s Queen in February 1952. She ascended the throne at 25, some 70 years ago. The Second World War had just ended, and India became a self-governing nation as an independent state. The task before Elizabeth II was to maintain the Crown’s close relationship with India. she had to ensure that the Crown’s brightest Jewel remained its partner; Elizabeth knew this would be one of her biggest challenges.
As Queen, she paid three visits to India, which she praised for its “richness and diversity.” However, her third and last journey in 1997 is often considered the most crucial and controversial. She visited the nation in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of its independence from colonial Britain. Queen’s schedule included a stop in Amritsar to Jallianwala Bagh, where a British commander ordered the execution of hundreds of non-violent protesters in 1919 in one of the most brutal acts of British colonial authority in India. Many people hoped the Queen’s visit would finally result in a long-awaited atonement for colonial atrocities. However, the apology never arrived.
“It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past,” Queen addressed the night before her visit. “Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example. But history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise.”
It is coincident that just a few hours before Queen Elizabeth’s demise, the Prime Minister of India presided over the ceremony of the renewed Rajpath, which runs between the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the India Gate.
In honor of Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V, the route was formally knowns as Kingsway. While renaming the avenue Kartavya Path, Mr. Modi added, “The emblem of slavery, Kingsway, or Rajpath, has become a matter of history from today and has been eliminated forever.” Later that day, the Indian authorities proclaimed a day of mourning with half-staff flags flying to commemorate the late Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Minister Modi recalled a visit with the Queen where she showed him a handkerchief given to her by Mahatma Gandhi at the time of her wedding. He tweeted, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered as a 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 U.K. in this sad hour.”
The long shared history was not particularly positive, which explains why even before the news of the Queen’s death emerged, the hashtag Koh-i-Noor was trending in India. Indians want Britain to return the diamond at the top of the Queen’s Crown kept in the British Museum. Indian Parliament member and author Shashi Tharoor expressed, “Until it is returned at least as a symbolic gesture of expiation, it will remain evidence of the loot, plunder, and misappropriation that colonialism was really all about”; a powerful reminder of the injustices perpetrated by the former imperial power.
But, on another stance, Queen received a heartfelt tribute from Indian dabbawalas (Lunch box sellers) from Mumbai. The community shares a good bond with Queen Family as they were invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla in 2005, where they shared breakfast with the Queen twice. But as this era ends, India mourns the Queen, but there is no grief for the Empire or Royals. India still expects an apology for Jallianwala Bagh and many demand reparations for the Imperial loot. Rishi Sunak’s appointment as U.K. Prime Minister certainly provided Indians a reason to be overjoyed.
Mr. Sunak began his campaign in north London, attended primarily by British Indians, with customary pleasantries. He also spoke in Hindi and said he would try to strengthen ties with India if elected. As British prime minister, he also took his parliamentary oath on the Bhagavad Gita, respected Hindu literature, and claimed to adore cricket, the true religion in India. These acts were enough to impress the Indian audience. “Mr Sunak’s triumph is probably more significant since he has become prime minister of a country with its own complicated colonial background, and a culture that continues to cope with racism.” “British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu,” Sunak said in an interview with Business Standard in 2015.
While some Indian are delighted, accepting a minority in the highest position has also sparked an internal introspection of Indian democracy. “First Kamala Harris, now Rishi Sunak . The people of the U.S. and the U.K. have embraced the non-majority citizens of their countries and elected them to high office in government,” tweeted Congress Party P Chidambaram. “I think there is a lesson to learn by India and the parties that practice majoritarianism,” the former finance minister further stressed.
Shashi Tharoor also pointed out: “If this does happen, I think all of us will have to acknowledge that the Brits have done something very rare in the world, to place a member of a visible minority in the most powerful office. As we Indians celebrate the ascent of @RishiSunak, let’s honestly ask: can it happen here? “Great News,” said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter. “Indians are setting their mark all over the globe. Alluding to the headscarf controversy at the Indian educational institute, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi wished that ” a hijab-wearing girl will become India’s prime minister in the future .”
On the sidelines of the G20 Summit, PM Modi met with Sunak and discussed collaboration in trade, defense, and security. Soon after the meeting, the British Prime Minister approved 3,000 visas each year for young professionals from India to live and work in the U.K. Both events indicate a new development and a fresh start to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries with a loaded past.
Anand Chauhan is a Taiwan Experience Education Program intern at National Chung Hsing University. His project work focuses on Taiwan’s policies on ESG investment.