The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, on Thursday made the official proclamation of retiring from all royal duties. Consort of Queen Elizabeth II, Phillip has for the last several decades been her biggest source of royal support as he toured around the world with her, making diplomatic visits in various countries. He is also the patron of around 800 organisations involved in subjects like sports, environment and industry. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England in 1952, and being the first royal heads of a post-colonial world, she along with Prince Phillip had some very important diplomatic ties to maintain. This was evident from the many diplomatic visits the royal couple would make together, especially in those countries which were once part of the British empire.
In the post-colonial world, India indeed had a special place to hold, considered as it was by the British as “jewel in the Crown”. As Prince Phillip retires from royal duties, here is a reflection upon the three times he visited India along with Queen Elizabeth II, and the aristocratic reception that had followed.
The first visit of the royal couple to India happened in 1961 and the grandiose preparation for their arrival was a matter that was covered widely by international media. Remarking upon the grand reception expected for the couple in India, the Chicago Tribune had reported that “two million Indians, including many leaders who have been in British jails, will be on hand to welcome them.”
As part of the visit, the couple toured around Bombay, Madras, Jaipur, Agra and Calcutta and then the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Iran. One of the first events in the royal schedule was a tiger hunt event hosted by the Maharaja of Jaipur. Reportedly, the news of the tiger hunt was received with much skepticism in Britain, where it was compared to the 17th century Londoner’s liking for bear baiting that had been abandoned as a sport.
In Madras, people lined up the street leading to the airport to receive the royal couple. A general holiday was declared in the city and also in Bangalore. They were received at the Rajaji Hall in the erstwhile Government estate. The speaker of Madras Assembly presented the couple with two gifts — an ivory image of the Nataraj for the Queen and silver cigarette box for the Duke. The couple rode through the country on howdahs on royal elephants.
In Delhi, they were guests of honour in the Republic Day parade, attended races in Calcutta and Bombay and made a visit to the Taj Mahal. Prince Philip also played polo as a reminder to the world that the sport originated in India.
The next time Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip made a visit to India was in 1983. The then prime minister, Indira Gandhi had made sure that the couple lived in the splendour of the British Raj. As reported by the New York Times, she is said to have taken all pains to consult elders who could give her the minutest details of the country as it was before independence and went through old photographs for her reference.
The couple stayed in the guest wing of the Rashtrapati Bhavan which was once the home of the British Viceroy. Indira Gandhi made sure that the Kashmiri style decor of the suite was done away with and replaced with furnishings as they were during the days of the Raj. The cuisine for the couple, however, was modified to suite the taste buds of the Westerners, with very little or no Indian food on the menu.
Describing the eagerness of the Indians to receive the royal couple the American news agency, United Press International had reported that “Although India officially condemns colonialism throughout the world, Indians are still fascinated by the lifestyle of the British Raj.”
In 1997, Prince Phillip made another visit to India along with Queen Elizabeth to mark the 50th anniversary of Indian independence. The visit, however, turned rather controversial with the British Foreign Secretary making a remark about the disputed region of Kashmir that was not received well by the Indian political elite. The then prime minister had retaliated to the remark by calling Britain a ‘third rate political power.’
However, the best part of the visit was when the Queen went to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar and laid a wreath on the site at which General Dyer had opened fire on an assemblage of Indians.