A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth

By W. David McIntyre | Go to book overview

3
Republic Status and the 1949
Declaration

India, Pakistan and Ceylon became Dominions and members of the Commonwealth, but Burma, which became independent in 1948 a month before Ceylon, became a republic outside the Commonwealth. As it was well known, from the end of 1946, that India’s new constitution would also be for a ‘sovereign independent republic’, did this mean that India, too, would leave the Commonwealth?

This question highlighted, in the most acute form, the problem of the Commonwealth’s future. The Irish link was tenuous; even the more well-disposed Irish leaders complained about ‘anomalies and anachronisms’. Before Indian independence, Attlee was warned by the British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook, that a new basis for the Commonwealth had to be found. From an ex-Indian civil servant, P. J. H. Stent, came the idea of a two-tier Commonwealth of monarchical and non-monarchical or associated states, on the ground that Asian countries would never accept a white king. 1 Sir Walter Monckton, who had been constitutional adviser to the Nizam of Hyderabad, pointed out that the King could never be independent India’s head of state, but he might be acceptable as ‘Head of the association’ 2 – a suggestion similar to that made by de Valera in 1921.

Attlee created a ministerial committee on Commonwealth Relations in 1947 to find a formula that would enable the greatest number of newly independent states to adhere to the Commonwealth without undue uniformity in their domestic constitutions. Another contributor to the discussion was Malcolm MacDonald, a pre-war Colonial Secretary, who as Governor-General of Malaya in 1947 was concerned about the impact that events in South Asia would have on Southeast Asia. He feared a domino effect if India and Burma were to leave the Commonwealth and wondered if the Irish model could provide a way.

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