The United Kingdom has lost its most vibrant asset, Queen Elizabeth ll, who kept the dignity and grandeur of the empire, even as it diminished over 70 years of her reign. The sun never set on her because she still had realms around the world, in the hearts of people in distant lands.
As Simon Armitage, the poet Laureate wrote:
“This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness
Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.”
She became the symbol of the soft power of the UK and 56 countries anointed her as the head of the Commonwealth and 14 of them revered her as their head of state. My own credentials as Indian High Commissioner to Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu were addressed to the Queen, but handed over to the respective Governors General.
President Macaron told the British, “She was your Queen, but for us, she was the Queen.”
If the UK today retains the relics of power it once had, like the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, its nuclear weapon state status, its membership of G7 and its Great Power status as a leading member of NATO, the person of the Queen had a role in it as she strode the earth with confidence and good cheer.
Though the empire had lost its jewel in the crown before she became the Monarch, she saw to it that she nurtured good relations with India and visited India three times and hosted three Presidents of India at Buckingham Palace.
Together with the English language, which some Indians spoke better than the British, the BBC and Shakespeare, who is visible in India in every imaginable manner, the Queen was the symbol of the glory of the past. No wonder President Draupadi Murmu will be paying her first visit abroad to pay homage to the Queen.
When Princess Elizabeth climbed a tree top resort in Kenya in February 1952, she had not realised that she would come down the next morning as the Queen. Her father had passed away in London. Her becoming the heir to the throne was also in exceptional circumstances because her father became King in 1936 only because his brother abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee.
The Queen was exceptionally fortunate to have become the longest reigning British Monarch and the longest known female head of state in history. She retained her charm, sense of humour and familiarity with world affairs till the very last moment of her life. She had received the new Prime Minister of the UK, Liz Truss, perhaps her sixteenth, before she passed away.
Since the Queen only reigned and not ruled, she was not held responsible for either the good or the evil of colonialism; but some of the crimes of colonialism affected her too. The call for her removal as head of state in some countries and actual removal in others reflected on her, but she took it in her stride as the inevitable march of history.
A referendum on the continuation the Queen as head of state in Australia went in her favour. Fiji, the only territory, which requested Queen Victoria to accept it as a colony, retained the Queen’s status as the monarch even after Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth on account of a racist coup there, which disenfranchised the Indian immigrants.
In a significant gesture, she and Prince Philip visited Jallianwala Bagh and placed a wreath for the martyrs even though she had no authority to apologise for the brutal killing of unarmed freedom fighters there. She proudly showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi a Khadi scarf she had received from Mahatma Gandhi as a wedding gift.
The Queen’s longevity imposed on her the responsibility to keep three generations of royals under control. It was hard for her to deal with the young princes and princesses who rebelled against her dictates, but she contained the differences within the fold.
She called the year 1992 “Annus Horribilis” on account of a divorce and a castle fire. What she faced when she did not express grief publicly on Diana’s death, forced her to make amends. We do not know how her enormous personal wealth will be distributed as her Will will remain in a vault, with other royal Wills.
King Charles lll, who had trained himself for the throne for 70 years is conscious of the challenges he faces, including the threat to the monarchy in an increasingly democratic world. Without the charisma of the Queen, he is vulnerable to the demand for him to move with the times. But he has been in the limelight for so long and nothing adverse has been noticed except his divorce of Princess Diana, who was the darling of the masses. He is well educated and groomed for the throne and he has a record of espousing popular causes such as climate change. However, the way he funded his charity projects through his cronies had caused concern. His style may be contrasted with his mother’s charm.
While the government will take the brunt of the new challenges in Europe, including Brexit and the confrontation with Russia, he will have the responsibility to keep the monarchy intact. His mother’s impeccable record of flexibility and firmness will be hard to follow, considering the King’s impatience about which even the Queen Consort Camilla had commented.
The Queen’s legacy is certainly positive and no clamour is likely for the abolition of the monarchy. The sympathy wave will be strong for a few years at least. King Charles lll cannot expect a long reign, but he has the necessary background, experience and wisdom to keep the monarchy intact even in a fast-changing world.