As the UK mourns the death of Elizabeth II, India overtakes the former colonial power
Last week India replaced the United Kingdom as the world's fifth-largest economy, but its per capita GDP is still very low. During her reign, Elizabeth II presided over decolonisation, but anti-British sentiment in India has evolved over time. Today it is driven by the BJP. While the balance of power is changing, economic and military ties between the two countries remain close.
Milan (AsiaNews) – When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952, Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister; three days ago she appointed the 15th head of government of her long reign, Conservative Liz Truss.
When she was born in 1926, the British colonial empire was still intact, but began to crumble in the following 20 years, transforming itself into the Commonwealth of Nations.
Elizabeth, who was on tour in Kenya when she received news of her father's death, became in spite of herself the queen who saw the independence movement sweep Africa and Asia.
This long process culminated last week with India overtaking the United Kingdom as the fifth-largest economy. The former British Raj, the Jewel in the Crown, had overtaken the former colonial master.
The Queen’s death marks the end of an era but opens a new one, full of new turbulent times, with more wars and unprecedented upheavals. Some are torn by regrets while others are rejoicing.
In a tweet following the announcement of the monarch’s death, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before he ordered a day of national mourning, wrote: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered as a stalwart of our times. She provided inspiring leadership to her nation and people. She personified dignity and decency in public life. Pained by her demise. My thoughts are with her family and people of [thet] UK in this sad hour.”
Yet, only a few hours earlier, with ironic timing, the Indian leader attended a ceremony renaming New Delhi’s Rajpath (one of the capital’s main boulevards) as Kartavya (Duty) Path, in order to remove the “traces of [the] colonial mindset”.
Known as Kingsway during the British Raj, the road was renamed after independence Rajpath, a quasi-literal translation of the original English name. In Hindi and various Indian languages, raj means kingdom, realm, or empire. The shifting names reflect the ebb and flow of history that India has gone and is still going through at great speed.
According to Sarwan Singh, professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and president of the Association of ASIA Scholars, the anticolonial discourse has evolved over time in India.
The hyper-nationalism promoted by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a relatively recent phenomenon linked to the great strides made by the country in a few years.
Just 10 years ago, India was the eleventh-largest economy in the world. Now its GDP is greater than that of the United Kingdom; this has had a major emotional impact since the former colonial power dominated India for over two centuries.
Even though the Indian economy is projected to surpass that of Germany and Japan by 2030, just knowing that it has surpassed that of the United Kingdom, an imperialist power, has “generated a certain confidence and a great sense of pride,” Singh said.
What remains of British rule in India today? Some infrastructure and institutions, the educational system, but also inequalities.
According to some studies, the United Kingdom extracted some US$ 45 trillion dollars from India between 1765 and 1938, starting with the East India Company.
India's GDP today exceeds US$ 854 billion dollars or about US$ 2,300 compared to US$ 47,000 for the United Kingdom.
Poverty levels remain very high, with 400 million people, just over 20 per cent of the population, earning less than US$ 2 a day.
For Prof Singh, “relations between India and the UK nowadays are mostly personal and business”.
"Most Indian elites have studied at British universities, but this is also changing; many people stay or prefer other English-speaking destinations, such as Canada and Australia because of more welcoming immigration policies."
Before Brexit, the number of Indian students in the United Kingdom fell by 25 per cent between 2012 and 2013 after new immigration legislation came into effect.
Still, ties between India and the United Kingdom are strong, especially in trade and defence. In April, then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Delhi to boost cooperation in both areas, perhaps also trying to reduce India’s reliance on Russia for weapons and boost the Indo-Pacific containment of China.
Last year the two countries established a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that included, among other things, a roadmap to improve bilateral relations by 2030, while in January of this year, they concluded the first round of free trade negotiations.
The balance of power between the two countries could change over time, but in the medium term, the fate of India and the United Kingdom will remain intertwined even under the new king, Charles III, and the newly appointed prime minister, Liz Truss.