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Historical documents

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

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

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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