New Delhi has had occasion to welcome foreign Heads of State a number of times by now. Queen Elizabeth II is not the first such dignity. US President Mr Eisenhower and USSR Chiefs Marshal Bulganin and Mr Voroshilov have also been here during their respective terms of office. The receptions accorded to them were on a grand scale. The ovation for the Queen has been made a still grander affair. If this had been actuated by a simple desire always to improve on past performance, there could hardly have been any objection. It would have even been appreciated. It cannot be forgotten that Elizabeth II is not only a Head of State, she is also a Queen. However simplicity-preferring she may be described and held to be, she is accustomed to greater splendour than other Heads of state, particularly those of Republics. The fact that she is a lady makes the expectation for greater grandeur in receptions somewhat natural. But the Government of India’s conduct towards the Queen seems to have been determined by some other considerations besides.
Queen Elizabeth is not only the Queen of England, but is the head of the Commonwealth as well. India is a member of the Commonwealth. The reception to the Queen, therefore, has had to befit her position. The pertinent question is: what exactly are the relations between India and Great Britain as members of the Commonwealth? It is on the basis of this question that it would be possible to adjudge what would be the bounds of such a “befitting welcome”.
No exact definition is available of the Commonwealth. Constitutionally, it is a hazy notion. Prior to India’s becoming a republic and accepting the membership of the Commonwealth, this notion was interpreted by the Balfour declaration of 1926 thus: “They (members of the commonwealth) are autonomous nations within the British Empire, equal in prestige, independent of each other in the matter of internal matters and foreign relations, though bound together in a common allegiance to the British Crown and freely associated with each other as members of the British Commonwealth.”
When the Congress adopted its pledge of complete Independence on the banks of the Ravi, this idea was unacceptable to it. It was an association not of equality but of subservience. No doubt, today’s Commonwealth is different from that one. In the above declaration, “autonomous” has been replaced by “independent”, the words “British” and “allegiance” have been omitted, and the British Crown has been accepted as head of the Commonwealth but only as a symbol of the “equal association” of its members.
Dr Radhakrishnan has described the Commonwealth to mean “Independence and informal association”, as a partnership of ideals and not of dependency, of aims and not of loyalties, as joint deliberation which might subscribe to decisions which would bring about a better understanding of problems, but would not limit the independence of the members.
But the Queen’s visit and particularly the protocol observed by the Government on this occasion, has compelled us to reconsider whether the new relation is fundamentally different from the former. On the occasion of the Republic Day Parade, the Queen drove jointly in the State with the Rashtrapati. Atop the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Queen’s flag has been fluttering along with the President’s flag. Is the Head of the Commonwealth superior, or even equal to our Rashtrapati, so far as we are concerned?
Let there be as many and as grand receptions accorded to the Queen as any one may will, but co-participation of the Queen along with the Rashtrapati in the cremonials of our Republic Day is surely a downgrading of our Republican and independent status. There can be numerous ways of manifesting our respect and affection for the Queen. But for that purpose, we can never concede to her the place that belongs only to the First Citizen of our Independent Republic. If we do so, then our relationship with the Commonwealth is not of equality but subordination. Such a status is repugnant to our sovereignty. It will have to be changed.
(Originally published by Organiser dated Feb 6, 1961)