India’s Colonized Mind and the Commonwealth
An Indian Miasma
The Commonwealth was created in the late 1940s as a fig leaf to cover Britain’s nakedness at the loss of its South Asian empire, when the gigantic land mass that became eventually the countries of Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947 and 1948. It was created as a means of rationalizing the incompetence and the impotence of Britannia to rule the waves. The Commonwealth was touted as a superb association of nations that would enhance the safety, prosperity and sustainability for its members based on a continuity of a shared history.
Yet, membership of the Commonwealth has been a statement of supplication. It is has been an acknowledgment that colonialism is alive and well in the 21st century. Countries that are members are, it seems, willing to acquiesce to belonging to a political and economic cooperation body to be headed, in theory in perpetuity, by a descendant of the King Emperor or the Empress of a varied dominion that also once included India. In colonial times, the King-Emperor was Primus in Indis (first in India). By virtue of acceptance of heredity succession rules, members of the Commonwealth still accept this proposition.
Agreeing to such a membership policy is an immediate statement that a country that does so still possesses an acute inferiority complex and is willing to have its people collectively genuflect at the feet of a Raja or Rani, of an Occidental persuasion. That India does so is because India still remains, apparently, an antediluvian and archaic feudal nation, where the heredity principle is at work everywhere.
The heredity succession principle is at work in India across small businesses; blatantly in the private corporate sector; in political parties across the spectrum of ideologies; and in the succession to being the head of political office in central government. Thus, India’s subservience to the idea of Charles’ succession as Head of the Commonwealth is hardly unexpected for a nation that has enshrined feudalism at the core of its psychological being.
A Contradiction: Nevertheless, consistently and continuously, in all his vocally-voluble statements at the hustings and elsewhere, the prime minister of India, pro-tem, has stated that it has been his wish to free Indian politics of the feudal miasma whereby the once-important Congress party, and now organized along feudal lines and based on succession within a family environment, no longer ever dominates a political scenario. Heredity as a succession scheme in a political party is bad policy for the Indian polity. Rather, he would have a fully fair and free system, where the accident of birth would not define who rose to the top of a political system tasked with the governance of a country.
Unfortunately, a contradiction to this belief is just too stark to contemplate. The acquiescing by India to the well-touted proposition that Prince Charles succeed his mother Queen Elizabeth, the present Head of Commonwealth, as it next head when the time comes, totally negates all of the Indian Prime Minister’s oft-stated objectives to support only a completely egalitarian meritocracy.
In a meritocracy milieu, appointment to the post would be based purely on capacity, courage, competence and character, and not on the accident of birth, even if the person so favored by chance did not explicitly arrange his or her presence in a situation defined by heredity and primogeniture. This is also not to suggest that Prince Charles may not possess the requisite capacity, courage, competence and character. Who know? He very well might.
Negating History: By accident or a lack of thought, however, to acquiesce to the idea of such succession makes India’s pro-tem Prime Minister an implicit supporter of feudalism. This was a system that the Prime Minister’s own principal political guru, Sardar Patel, had fought against his whole life. This was a system the Prime Minister’s political hero, Netaji Subhas Bose, also fought against his whole life.
The redoubtable Sardar Patel became famous during the Bardoli agitation of the 1920s when he fought for the peasants of South Gujarat and their rights. He came into his own in the interim government of 1946, as the Home Minister. Till his death in 1950, in an extremely limited period of three years after independence, the Sardar radically altered the political geography of India for all time to come.
History will perpetuate the memory of the Sardar for his integration of the Princely States of India into the Indian Union. That about 40 percent of India was brought in to a free and democratic nation, without any bloodshed or extended parlays or processes other than the case of Hyderabad and Junagadh, remains a superb political and administrative achievement.
Sardar Patel and his team of superb political administrators abolished feudalism, at least of the one kind that the Rajahs and Maharajahs of India had fostered for generations. India became a democratic republic. For the Sardar’s acolyte, the current Indian prime minister, to support exactly this type of Raja-Rani feudalism, via a critical foreign policy move, is to throw away all of the late Sardar’s achievements into history’s dustbin.
Next, let us deal with Netaji’s contributions. As one of India’s greatest sons, Netaji had altered the nature of discourse between the colonizer and the colonized so that, by the end of the World War 2, in 1945 the British were ready to cut and ran from India as quickly as feasible. Once in South-East Asia, Netaji had created INA, in 1942, after having realized from Singapore’s fall and the abject surrender of British forces that British leadership was lackluster and illusory.
Netaji’s fundamental role in Indian history was psychological. Of course, he mobilized the INA. But he made the rest of the Indian Army, and the Indian nation, aware that loyalty and duty lay to one’s own motherland, one’s “Matrubhumi,” and not to some absent monarch of a colonial power.
Netaji had brought about a mind-set change to transform Indian beliefs to worship at the altars of secularism and nationalism. The Indians now believed that they owed greater loyalty to Mother India’s cause than to the fighting of a war, of which one aspect was the re-capture of Burma, the objective of which was to restore the glory of British colonial rule.
Agreement by India to let Prince Charles be the hereditary head of the Commonwealth negates, in one stroke, all of the ideals that the Netaji and the Sardar had fought for all their lives. It makes a mockery of their contributions to ameliorating the lot of India’s humanity and altering her history. It also puts the prime minister of India out of the running to ever don the mantle of a Sardar or a Netaji and become a world-class statesman and a nation builder.
So What Now: The common threads that tie the Commonwealth nations together today are similar educational, legal and political systems. Such systems can be collectively enhanced and harnessed to create mutual wealth. Yet, the harnessing of a variety of national systems to create supra-national wealth among the diverse number of members necessitates a person of substantial charisma, vision, character, competence and capability. The accident of ability rather than an accident of birth should always define who should head the Commonwealth.
There can be a president of the Commonwealth who is elected for a five-year term and becomes the titular head of the Commonwealth. But, let such be person be of genuine eminence, and someone who is genuinely Primus Inter Pares. Let us not have the position be filled by selection based on primogeniture. Let an election take place, the way the Secretary-Generalship of the United Nations is dealt with. Of course, Prince Charles can always be nominated as one of the candidates for election. Then, of course, may the best person win!
All of the Commonwealth countries are democracies. Among them, India is the largest democracy, even though the mind-set of her people may still be very substantially feudal. One critical aspect of a democracy is the operation of a market for political office in which elections define the market process. It is exactly this market process that should be at work in the eventual appointment of the eventual head of the Commonwealth. Its members are democracies and not monarchies.
Letting Prince Charles be anointed the hereditary head of the Commonwealth negates all the concepts of democracy and egalitarianism enshrined in India’s republican political system. An Indian tragedy has been the absence of political leaders capable of donning the Sardar and Netaji mantles, taking the Indian nation to a higher plane of emotional maturity and creating a sentiment of patriotism. The withholding by India of agreement to the hereditary Commonwealth headship policy signals that the Indian mind may not be colonized any longer, and that India may have a statesman-like leader willing to stand up for the wonderful ideals enshrined in India’s Constitution.
(Professor Sumit K. Majumdar is at the University of Texas at Dallas)