NEW DELHI: India observed a day of national mourning on Sunday to honor the late Queen Elizabeth II, as her death showed a glimpse of modern India and its relations to colonialism.
Elizabeth, the UK’s longest-serving monarch, died at her home in Balmoral, Scotland on Thursday aged 96. She was the face of her nation since 1952 and the first to reach seven decades on the throne before her death. The queen’s 73-year-old son, Charles, was proclaimed king at an elaborate ceremony in London on Saturday.
In India, the largest in the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of mostly former British colonies, the national flag was flown at half-mast throughout the country on Sunday as a “mark of respect” for the queen’s passing, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
As tributes for the queen poured in from across the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said she 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,” Modi wrote on Twitter.
“Pained by her demise. My thoughts are with her family and people of UK in this sad hour.”
But beyond official remarks, Elizabeth’s death was met with muted reactions across India, a nation that has sought to remove vestiges of the colonial era and has overtaken the British economy in size.
Just hours before the announcement of the queen’s death, Modi was at a ceremony to rename Rajpath, an avenue in the capital New Delhi that was originally named Kingsway in honor of Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V.
Kingsway was a “symbol of slavery,” that has now been “erased forever,” Modi said during the event.
The queen’s death created a “contradiction in foreign policy obligation and demands of domestic politics” for the government, said Sanjay Kapoor, chief editor of the political magazine Hard News.
“India’s reaction has been subdued, which is understandable,” he told Arab News.
“The new generation of Indians have forgotten the Raj,” he added, referring to the period of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent.
Though the queen represented the British monarchy, people must “separate the issue of British colonialism with India’s approach towards the UK,” Prof. Harsh V. Pant of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi said.
“India is making a point about how we need to come out of the colonial mindset, how we look at the world in our own terms,” Pant told Arab News.
“India’s economic vibes, confidence and assertion of its own identities mean that there is going to be a wider debate on what British colonialism did to India, what the consequences were — that continues,” he added.
India-UK relations today are “very pragmatic” and have “considerably improved,” Pant said, owing to a realization that “both sides need each other.”
Delhi’s move to declare a national day of mourning for Elizabeth was “very well-thought of,” Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, director of the Europe Area Studies Programme at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News.
“Not declaring a mourning would have been very, very petty and appear insensitive. You have to put politics aside and look at the larger picture,” Bava said.
India and the UK scaled up defense cooperation when former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited New Delhi in April. The two countries also agreed to wrap up a free trade agreement by the year’s end.
“You cannot change a part of history whatever you do,” she said. “There was a relationship; it was not the best relationship, and that was a reality. There is another reality that India is going in for trade negotiations with the UK.”