Queen Elizabeth Windsor, the longest-ruling monarch of Britain and possibly anywhere in the world, died on September 8. Elizabeth was 96 years old. She took over the reins of the British Crown on February 6, 1952. Her path towards the Crown was the result of extraordinary circumstances. She was third in the line of the Crown. Her becoming the Queen was a long shot since her father, the Duke of York, was King George V’s second son. Her uncle unexpectedly relinquished the entitlements to follow his heart and marry an American twice divorced. With no male siblings, Elizabeth became the leader of the British Empire, ruling the earth at the age of 25.
Elizabeth’s legacy is unsurprisingly complex. The royal family history in the UK consists of Norman invasions into the segregated island of Europe about a thousand years ago. Most of the British royalty have German heritage.
There is an interesting relationship that Britons share with their Queen. They embraced her as her own but did not necessarily own up to her fault lines. That means being an active participant in the Empire and its dirty work.
Many who are now tearing Elizabeth apart for her participation in colonial expansionism perhaps expect her to turn into a Robin Hood figure. The monarch is, by definition, exploitative and grifter in nature. There haven’t been benevolent stories of empires and emperors since Ashoka, who laid a foundation of morality – the Dhamma — as the law of the land.
Now there is a campaign in the UK led by a group, Republic, that advocates for the replacement of monarchy with a parliamentary republic run by a written constitution, which the UK government does not have. Their public campaign started to draw attention as soon as they appealed with a punchline: “Make Elizabeth the Last”. This soon received attention from within the UK and outside too. The formerly colonised countries still carry the scorn of British imperialism.
In India, the brutality of British colonisation does not arouse as much public anger as it did until a decade ago. That anger is now directed at the crown-incarnate Gandhi family. Indians loathe foreign invaders but love their monarchs. Many might sing praises without acknowledging the brutality of their past. Like imperialism, India’s 500-plus kingdoms are not bathed in innocence.
Social media reactions from the former colonies to Elizabeth’s passing demonstrate that memories of colonisation are beyond rhetoric. Colour-based society and rule of global elites have not allowed them to reconcile with the past. Economic inequality and political sycophancy have made the non-white public more intolerant of anything that would remotely glorify their current oppression. The Queen was more than an artifice of past rulers.
Two things concern me. What will happen to the tourism revenue that the Queen brought to the UK? The second is the orphanage of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and 12 more Asian-Pacific and Caribbean countries. The Royal Family is still adored by many in the UK and across the channels of the Commonwealth countries.
The British ruling family still has a supervisory status in these countries, and they are the constitutional heads even though colonisation has ended. This explains how the erstwhile Brits and fellow Europeans who plundered and colonised the lands of the natives and violated their lands of worship continue to remodel their tradition.
Most of these European settlers left their mother country as the subalterns and caught hell in the colonies while fattening the purse of their masters in London. Years later, their only connection to the motherland is via the royal families.
The protest against the Royal Family in the UK is gathering steam, but the believers in the Royal Family are unabated. They relish the colourful monarch waving from the balcony or chariot. They underscore the diplomatic influence the Royal Family has. However, the dominions of the British Empire hinted at leaving the monarchy. The latest in the episode was Barbados. Jamaica is not only planning to exit but also petitioned the British Crown for reparations. Australia and New Zealand favour displacing the foreign head of the state with their own.
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Though the head of the state is largely symbolic, its presence is still a topic of dynamic interactions.
Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column