Dear Professor Flint,
I refer to your article 'The Indian Connection', ( see below) which highlighted very illuminatingly the inherent inefficiency of presidencies such as India's, which has a Westminister ystem of government but with a politically elected president. However, I would venture to point out that most Indians would not have preferred Dominion Status in the British Empire, and that Dominion status was not eagerly anticipated in 1935.
Dominion Status was an early demand of the very anglicised elites of India, of which the Nehrus were a prominent family which continues to dominate Indian politics today in a most feudal fashion. The famous Gandhi himself was a loyal British subject for most of his life. India has a deep and ancient civilisation of its own and most Indians would have found the idea of having a British sovereign as a solution to ending British imperialism in India bizzare if not revolting (pun intended).
In 1930, the Indian National Congress (Gandhi's and Nehru's party) resolved to fight (in a manner of speaking) for poorna svaraj, or full independence. Dominion Status would for most Indians, at best have been a compromise for the Indian independence movement, that would have given India an equal status with the white dominions. While India and the commonwealth now have much in common, the difference in ethnicity (and perhaps religion) led to stark discriminatory treatment in those days against non-white colonies/dominions.
This makes comparing the appeal of British constitutional monarchy between such countries as Australia and India difficult. Yes, perhaps if India had established its own native version of constitutional monarchy, it might have enjoyed greater political stability. The practical problem with that would clearly have been the abundance of regional royal families to choose from. While a constitutional monarchy would have been popular amongst the masses (as seen by the reverence shown to descendents of royalty in many parts of India), the fact that Nehru (and to an extent) Gandhi were enamoured with socialist ideals did not make that prospect any more likely.
[ In the following video Lord Mountbatten reads a message from His Majesty King George VI to the Parliament and to the people of India on the attainment of independence ]
|The Indian connection|
|Written by Professor David Flint AM|
|Friday, 20 March 2009|
Corroborating the growing body of evidence that the Governor-General is head of state is a recently noticed piece of evidence from an unusual source, an All Parties conference in India in 1928. The conference produced a report, the Nehru Report, which envisaged the Governor-General of India as the King’s Representative acting on the advice of the Executive Council, as in Canada or Australia.
(By the way, the chairman was not the remarkable first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, as I had assumed, but his father, Motilal Nehru (1861-1931) a very successful barrister who obtained the right to appear before the Privy Council in 1909. Subsequently he entered politics and became for a time the Leader of the Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly in British India.)
Much of the Nehru Report was adopted by the British government, the British Parliament enacting the Government of India Act in 1935. The present Indian Constitution is based largely on that Act.
The reason I mention the Nehru Report is that it is referred to a report commissioned by Paul Keating’s Republic Advisory Committee, which was chaired by Malcolm Turnbull. The report was prepared by Mr. A G Noorani, and is included in Appendix 4 of the RAC report.
This says the 1935 act “conferred substantial autonomy on the provinces and sought to establish a Federation with the Governor-General as the head of state.” (Dominion status was not to come with the legislation, but was envisaged to follow it. The war and the demands for partition delayed that.)
The republican movement should note that. The RAC after all consisted only of republicans – Paul Keating saw to that. So this was a report commissioned by republicans about India. And it described the Governor-General of India as head of state.
….India chooses a republic…
After the war, it was decided to retain the parliamentary system with which Indians were familiar and which most Indian politicians believed was superior to the American system. Lord Mountbatten became the first Governor-General of India after independence and Muhammad Ali Jinnah the first Governor-General of Pakistan. The following video extract embedded on this site from the drama documentary, “The Last Days Of The Raj: The End of British India” gives some flavour of those momentous days:
When India became a republic, they created the office of president, expecting the incumbent to play a similar role to a governor-general. But as he or she was to be elected by a college consisting of federal and state politicians, they ensured the presidency would be political. The college of course has always operated along party political lines. On the most critical occasion, the presidency failed to be the constitutional guardian which the Australian Governors-General and Governors have shown themselves to be on several occasions.
As Mr.Noorani suggests, by 1974 the political situation in India was that the Congress Party had degenerated into becoming little more than an instrument of Mrs Gandhi’s will. And she had the numbers in the college which elects the president. She decided to offer the presidency to the safest person she could find, one Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who thus secured 80% of the vote.
…a president is no governor-general…
Soon after, the presidency was put to its greatest test. In 1975 the High Court of Allahabad found Mrs. Gandhi had engaged in electoral malpractice and disqualified her from sitting in arliament for six years. After lodging an appeal there were demonstrations demanding that she resign.
She advised the President to sign a Proclamation of an Emergency. According to the advice to the RAC, the President knew that the recitation in the Proclamation of an internal disturbance sufficient to justify the emergency to be false. But as the advice says, ‘Mr. Ahmed did not flinch’.
According to one account, Mrs Gandhi reminded him that he owed everything to the Congress Party. He was not the personal representative of the Crown, with a duty to The Queen and to the people. He was Mrs Gandhi’s puppet.
The President signed the false Proclamation which the politician submitted only to save her skin. She was prepared to establish a dictatorship; the President shamefully went along with her. He even extended this sham emergency twice.
I cannot believe that any of the Governors-General of Australia would have done this. The Governor-General owes or her his allegiance not to the recommending prime minister, but to the Sovereign and through her to the people. Just think of any of our Governors-General. I am sure that not one of them would have signed such a sham proclamation to establish a dictatorship.
There is indeed a significant difference between a crowned republic and a politicians’ republic. No serious case has been made for removing our oldest institution from our constitutional system. Indeed we must be suspicious of those who propose this, and dismiss those who so scandalously refuse to even say what they propose to put in its place.