69 Cabinet Submission

Agendum 1586 CANBERRA, 7 April 1949



The Problem The Indian Government is quite firm in its statements that India will be a Republic.

The draft constitution leaves the question open as to India's relations with the British Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister of India and his supporters clearly would like to maintain existing relations with the British Commonwealth.

The problem is, therefore, in what ways can India's relations with the British Commonwealth be maintained when India becomes a Republic.

From a legal point of view common allegiance to the Crown is the test of membership and India is not, at the present time, prepared to accept this. There does not appear to be any completely logical substitute for this test from a legal point of view. A concept of common citizenship has been suggested, but such a concept, unsupported by any comprehensive system of equal and compensating citizenship rights and obligations applying throughout the Commonwealth, would be insufficient and, indeed, there might be some danger in this notion from the Australian point of view since it might be used as an argument against our longstanding immigration policy. Pandit Nehru has suggested that some link with the Crown might be established by means of an agency doctrine whereby the President of the Republic and the King could act for each other, but this would be legally unsatisfactory and would raise difficult problems.

Australian interests It is assumed Australia could not accept any radical constitutional change involving relations with the Crown to enable the Republic of India to come within the British Commonwealth on an equal footing.

At the same time, India is more important to Australia, economically and strategically, than some members of the British Commonwealth who are prepared to accept the present constitutional framework.

It would seem, therefore, not in Australian interests to adopt an inflexible attitude designed to preserve relationships with, for example, South Africa and Canada, at the expense of close relations with India.

Attitude of other Members of Commonwealth South Africa, and perhaps Canada, will probably take advantage of the problem of India to obtain modifications in British Commonwealth relations along the lines of associate membership.

New Zealand will probably resist any change in existing relations with the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom Government will be looking for a compromise which will retain all members, including Ireland and even Burma.

Possible proposals Included in the proposals likely to arise are:-

(1) British Commonwealth members and associate members, including the Republics which do not retain their link with the Crown.

(2) A changed relationship with the King so that he personally becomes the King of each Dominion or Republic thus placing all on an equal footing.

(3) Treaty relations between members of the British Commonwealth and onetime members so as to re-establish existing economic, defence and other relations.

(4) A Commonwealth of Nations including members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (see below).

Indian attitude India is reluctant to join with any political group or bloc and endeavours to maintain friendly relations with all countries especially in her area. For that reason, India might accept a regional (British) Commonwealth arrangement including India, Pakistan, Ceylon, United Kingdom (Malaya), Burma, Australia and New Zealand.

Australian attitude From an Australian point of view a solution might be to retain existing British Commonwealth relations and the constitutional ties with the Crown, and to agree to a wider organisation of Commonwealth Nations which would include both members of the British Commonwealth and the associate or one-time members. If India were brought into such a relationship, Australia's economic and defence interests would be met. Moreover, Australian and New Zealand relations with South-East Asia would become clear-there would be no call for any regional arrangements outside the Commonwealth of Nations comprising, in our area, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, United Kingdom (Malaya), Burma, Australia and New Zealand.

French and Dutch relations in this area could be established through this group.

Method of approach At the same time, the whole question seems to be political and practical rather than legal and academic and there appears to be no reason in principle why, if Commonwealth countries wish to meet the Indian requirements, they should not do so. The practical question which might arise would be in relation to foreign countries who might not be easily persuaded to accept what would be legally and formally an anomalous situation, e.g. especially in relation to trade matters. However, this question would arise only in an acute form should a Commonwealth country be brought before the International Court of justice when the suggested difficulties might be overcome by an appeal to the historical position and gradual evolution of the Commonwealth.

In other words, the solution seems to be an agreement among the Commonwealth countries themselves to accord India a special position in relation to them, but not to endeavour to formalize the position by any attempted definitions. Any announcements on this subject should take the form of short statements of an actually recognized position, such statements stressing historical and evolutionary factors rather than legal concepts. [1]

1 Cabinet agreed that it was desirable that the association of India with the British Commonwealth be Maintained and decided that the matter could be dealt with by Chifley on his visit to London.

[AA: A2700, VOL.38]