Tribute | Queen Elizabeth II, a majestic legacy

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II waves to the crowd as she rides 04 June 2002 in the Gold State coach from Buckingham Palace to St Paul's Cathedral for a service of Thanksgiving to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. File Photo: AFP

As she drifted away from life on September 8, Queen Elizabeth II took with her an era in British history. She also left behind a legacy of dedication to duty, grace and dignity, which is reflected in the outpouring of sentiment across the world.

It is unlikely that any other British leader would have evoked meaningful tributes from the spectrum of world leaders, including our own Prime Minister, the Presidents of China and Russia, the USA and France, and so many others.

The Queen was the Head of State for 70 long years during which the British Empire was dismantled and Britain played a smaller role in the world. Yet, she remained one of the most recognizable figures among world leaders. She took particular interest in world affairs. She was affected both officially and personally by the turbulent developments her country has been through -- including the killing of Lord Mountbatten – her cousin and close friend -- in an IRA bombing. Yet she rarely let her own political views be known.

She interacted with almost all world leaders while receiving them in the UK or travelling across the globe. She always followed the script given by the British Government with a remarkable sense of duty. Much has been written about her visits to India in 1961, 1983 and 1997. During the last trip she must have been affected by the negative feelings created by Robin Cook the Foreign Minister, but she bore it stoically.

In early 2014, when I was High Commissioner in London, my wife accompanied me to Buckingham Palace where I ‘presented my credentials’ to the Queen, i.e handed over the letter from the President of India appointing me as India’s representative to her country. I had met her years earlier during a previous assignment in London, but this was a rare occasion when a brief but substantive conversation was possible. It was clear that she was really well informed about the churn in the political, and social climate in India. She was deeply committed to friendship between the UK and India. She held no illusions about the past and wanted ties strengthened bilaterally, and through the Commonwealth. Her sense of humour always made such interactions pleasant and memorable despite the protocols in the palace.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is seen at work aboard the Royal train near Darlington May 7, 2002. File Photo: AFP

The Queen was a great believer in tradition but also adapted to modernity. She understood the need to reach out to the young at all times and to keep dialogues going. She took her role as Defender of the Faith -- and her role in the Church of England quite seriously but did not get involved in ecclesiastical debates. During her era, Britain was changed by immigration into a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society and she gradually adapted the monarchy and related institutions, to change.

As the Dean of Westminster Abbey once told me inter-faith dialogue was welcomed -- and was made truly inclusive -- with representatives of Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions being added to participants in official events.

The tragedies and difficulties in the lives of her children made news worldwide. She nevertheless did much to uphold family values in her own life in front of the nation. She had a true life partner in Prince Philip with whom she shared married life for 73 years, starting out as the wife of a naval officer in Malta in 1948! After his death, the Queen, who was a generally healthy nonagenarian -- still riding horses – began to decline. While in London for a short visit this year, I was told she personally chose the music and readings for Prince Philip’s memorial service on March 29. Strikingly it included the beautiful lines of “Bist du bei mir”-- (If you are with me), put to music by Bach:

If you are with me, I will gladly go

To my death, and to my rest.

Ah, how pleasant would my end be

If your dear, fair hands shut

My faithful eyes!

(The author is a former Indian High Commissioner to the UK)

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