This week, Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee will be celebrated across the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom.
The Queen officially became the first British monarch in history to celebrate a platinum jubilee in February, marking seventy years as the Head of State for Britain, head of the Commonwealth, the commander-in-chief of the British Army and the supreme governor of the Church of England.
Events are taking place across the United Kingdom for an extended bank holiday weekend to reflect on The Queen’s unprecedented anniversary. Across the Commonwealth, on Thursday, 2 June The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Beacons will be lit.
The official lighting of the beacons will begin during a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Following this, community beacons will light up across the UK as well as Commonwealth beacons in all 54 capital cities of the Commonwealth.
As we mark this momentous occasion, Asian Standard wanted to take a look back at the history of the Commonwealth, what it means for India and Pakistan as member states, and if it is likely that the association will continue to exist when Prince Charles takes to the throne.
In 1913, the British Empire reached the height of its sordid and brutalist rule across the world, dominating over 23% of the world’s population at the time.
The beginning of the empire began in pre-partition India when the British East India Company began trading textiles and spices in 1600.
By the 1750s, Empire had control of ports and cities of the subcontinent and was shipping its captured wealth back home with the equivalent of billions of pounds of India’s wealth pocketed by British colonists.
The Commonwealth of Nations came into existence in 1931 through the Balfour Declaration at the 1926 Imperial Conference which established the principle that territories ruled by Britain are all equal in status, and “autonomous communities within the British Empire” are not subordinate to the UK.
India gaining Independence in 1947 solidified the beginning of the end of the British Empire, cemented completely by the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China in 1997 after a 156-year rule.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary political association of 54 member countries – including the UK, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for fifteen member countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among others.
The majority of countries, 36 to be exact, are republics meaning that it is ruled by a chief of state that is not a monarch, usually, a president and five countries found in the Caribbean are ruled by their own monarchy.
Unlike the succession to the throne, the position of the head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary but it was announced at the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that Prince Charles will be the Queen’s successor.
Professor Phillip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London said that membership of the Commonwealth by South Asian countries is more beneficial to Britain than it is to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“India sees its diplomats as a way of humouring the Brits and is something that is occasionally useful for them. India is a growing 21st century country and sees Britain as a product of its past.” – Prof Phillip Murphy.
Prof Murphy said that India is a part of the Commonwealth to merely indulge the UK and that the country would have no qualms about pulling out of the association if the Commonwealth found India to be violating its terms and conditions as Modi’s government becomes increasingly aggressive.
He also said that despite Pakistan being suspended from the Commonwealth not once but twice in the past twenty-five years, the UK needs to keep a friendly relationship with the country to maintain access to the region.
He said: The Commonwealth is a voluntary association for states around the world, most of which had links to the British Empire. The benefits of being in the Commonwealth to India and Pakistan are fairly minor. The Commonwealth provides a diplomatic framework, with the network of Commonwealth high commissioners in London being quite useful, particularly for some of the smaller countries.
“India is by far, the largest Commonwealth country but the country has never been a particularly active or keen member of the association. I think the country sees its diplomats as a way of humouring the Brits and is something that is occasionally useful for them. India is a growing 21st-century country and sees Britain as a product of its past.”
“Modi’s government is increasingly authoritarian; it is cracking down on freedom of speech. If the Commonwealth find India to violate the values of the Commonwealth, then I believe they would leave and the consequences of doing so will be virtually non-existent.”
He added: “Pakistan’s relationship with the Commonwealth has always been a difficult one partly because of its periods of military rule and violation of human rights, with the country being suspended from the association twice in recent times.
“From the UK’s point-of-view, it is a major player in the region, and it was tremendously important to the British Government and the US to maintain a good relationship with the county during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and will continue to be so.”
What a remarkable journey, we take this opportunity to congratulate Her Majesty the Queen to become the first British monarch to reign for 70 years.
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