By Abhishek Khajuria
It is indeed not an easy task to write about Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of a country which ruled over our country for almost 200 years, in the wake of her death. In the last couple of days, amidst all the debate on social media whether a mourning should have been announced or not, or how appropriate is to write R.I.P. as caption to her photographs, I intend to straddle clear of all this and concentrate on the person instead and how did her public view her as their sovereign.
To begin with, a common thread which has been seen in the condolence messages (which astonishingly included one from the Irish nationalists Sinn Fein as well) from around the world (which the title also indicates and perhaps) is that she almost became a constant during the course of her reign of just a shade above 70 years. Prime Ministers came and went: from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss (who took charge less than a week ago and was the 15th and the last Prime Minister under her reign), but she carried on and as the Britons would remember, fulfilled her pledge of serving her country for the rest of her life. The UK went through upheavals and crises but the British people saw in her, a symbol of stability and dignity.
Going back in time, it is worth highlighting here that when she was born, no one had actually seen her as a successor as it was her uncle Edward VIII who was the heir apparent to her grandfather George V. It was only after Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 and the then Princess Elizabeth’s father George VI became the King that her succession to the throne became a real possibility. She ultimately became the monarch in February 1952 aged just 25 after the death of her father.
She took over the reins at a time when the empire was shrinking in its size. A number of countries got decolonized in the initial years of her rule. Due to this, the young Queen became instrumental in the creation of a Commonwealth based on shared values of democracy, tolerance and human rights among others.
Her role as a diplomat is often less highlighted outside of the UK. But for the majority of her rule, the British public saw her as their chief diplomat who visited around the world as the symbol of their nation travelling millions of miles. She visited India three times and contributed to warming of the relations between India and the UK after the memories and trauma of colonial rule.
She also played an important role in normalizing ties between Germany and the UK after WWII. This surely would have an effect on the masses who internalized this normalization after seeing their sovereign do the same. Perhaps, the most appreciable diplomatic endeavour which she took was her visit to the Republic of Ireland in May 2011.
It was the visit to this part of the island of Ireland by a ruling British monarch in exactly 100 years. The visit, though opposed in some quarters, was widely praised as contributing to further normalizing relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland after the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreements of 1998 (which came after decades of conflict known as The Troubles).
Widely noted for her remarkable fashion sense and sense of humour, she was known for her deep interest in politics. This she did while always maintaining a politically neutral stance which by convention, is expected of the reigning monarch. Her rule saw weekly meetings with the Prime Ministers. She offered them her wisdom and counsel on certain issues, the details of which have always stayed behind closed doors. This garnered her respect which is aptly visible in the outpouring of emotions for her from across the UK today.
The 1990s were a time of her reign when she essentially modernized the monarchy and brought far-reaching changes to the way it works. A number of changes were instituted by her, the chief among which was the beginning of practice of paying taxes by her for which she was constitutionally not obliged.
She helped change the perception of the palace and the royal family in the eyes of the British citizens and successfully rode through one of the most challenging times for the monarchy in recent memory (especially amplified after Princess Diana’s death in 1997).
If one listens to commentators and royal biographers who have observed the royal family and the Queen over the years, one thing which stands out is that she wasn’t the typical cold-faced monarch as is generally assumed of such people.
Her warmth, love and care for her family as a mother, grandmother and a great grandmother and the rest of the citizens of the UK has been especially noted by the biographers and extensively covered by the media. While dealing with losses in the family, she maintained a control over the royal family as the matriarch. This was strongly visible when her younger son, Prince Andrew, who was accused of child sexual abuse, was stripped of his military titles and other patronages. This despite him being labelled as the Queen’s ‘favourite son’.
Towards the end of her life, she continued to contribute to public service. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she requested the people to stay indoors and appealed them to stay resolute and united while also expressing the belief that everybody would be together soon.
Thus, there were many facets to the personality of Queen Elizabeth II other than just being a nominal head of a constitutional monarchy, for which she earned respect from the British people and the world at large as well. Her reign would invariably be known for its longevity though it shouldn’t be limited just to that.
While there are indeed views around the world about whether a constitutional monarchy should exist today or not, in my humble opinion, it will be better to leave it to the wishes of the British people, majority of whom have so far shown no inclination to turn their back on it.
Author is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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