Skip to main content

Historical documents

70 High Commission in London to Holloway and Dedman

Cablegram 1 63 7 LONDON, 22 April 1949, 10.57 p.m.

IMMEDIATE TOP SECRET

At the first session of the Prime Minister's Conference this
morning, which followed many exchanges of views on a personal
basis during yesterday, Nehru set out the problem and indicated in
broad terms his proposals.

2. He made it clear that he was not proposing any change of status
or change in relations with the King of those members of the
British Commonwealth who wished to retain existing links. He
suggested, however, that it was possible to separate the fact that
each country has certain relations with the King and the fact that
there was an association of Commonwealth Nations. It was not
possible for India to continue the direct link with the King but
it was possible for India to recognise the status of the King as
the symbol of association of members of British Commonwealth.

3. In other words there could be no change in existing relations
of the
Dominions but the Commonwealth countries as a whole could be
joined together by-
(A)Commonwealth citizenship which would mean that the people of
the Commonwealth were not foreign to each other, though each
member would still retain complete authority over the composition
of its own population and any restrictions it might wish to
impose;

(B) A declaration by India of continued association with members
of the Commonwealth, and
(C) The acceptance by India of the King as the symbol of this
association.

4. Mr Chifley stressed Australia's desire for very cordial
relations with India to continue but any discussions to this end
had to be on the clear understanding that there would be no
weakening of the links now joining Australia to the Crown. There
were sentimental, historic, economic, defence and other reasons
which ensured effective assistance to the United Kingdom if
required of it, perhaps even in some cases irrespective of rights
and wrongs of the case. India had indicated she was not prepared
to enter into commitments and in fact politically could not do so.

Equally, Australia politically could not afford not to enter into
commitments and this was a measure of the differences existing in
the relations between on the one hand India and the British
Commonwealth, on the other Australia and the British Commonwealth.

But Australian-Indian close association was vital to peace in
South East Asia and if it were possible in any way at all to
maintain that association Australia would do so provided there was
no change or seeming change in the links which bound Australia to
the King. Any statement or declaration that might be made must be
first and foremost the reiteration of the fact that Australia's
relations with the King were unchanged and the changed relation of
India with the British Commonwealth should appear as incidental to
that reaffirmation.

5. Mr. Fraser expressed personal regret at the Indian decision to
form a Republic but if that decision was firm his views were
entirely in accord with those of Chifley.

6. Malan [1] read a prepared statement which seemed to be a
carefully thought out exposition of Nehru's point of view, the
same arguments being used giving emphasis to the assertion that
National unity in South Africa could be obtained only by a change
or elimination of South Africa's relations with the King though
South Africa wished to remain within the British Commonwealth.

7. Liaquat Ali Khan was emphatic in his view that a strong British
Commonwealth was essential to peace and that an association meant
nothing unless it meant firm assurances that the members of the
Association could be relied upon to assist one another in war. He
wanted firm undertakings of the degree of assistance Pakistan
could expect from India and other members of British Commonwealth
and if the concept of association did not mean that it had little
content. Suggestions put forward by India and South Africa led to
the question as to whether other foreign countries could join this
association and on what grounds they could be kept out. In time
this could lead to the disintegration of the British Commonwealth.

Members of the Commonwealth had to agree to undertakings and
obligations and not merely expect advantages.

8. Senanayake [2] followed a similar line suggesting that when the
New Dominions were formed Ceylon was given no hint of India's and
South Africa's intentions to break loose. Ceylon was looking to
India to assist in her development and looked to the strengthening
rather than to the weakening of the bond between Members of
British Commonwealth. If the United Nations failed to preserve
peace the responsibility would fall on the British Commonwealth.

It was an inopportune moment in world affairs to be discussing
changes in British Commonwealth relations. The connection with the
Crown is the strongest link and to give it up would be to give up
all hope of future strengthening of bonds of the British
Commonwealth.

9. Pearson stated that Canada could not contemplate any change in
her relations with the Crown but implied that Canada would be
willing to agree to the kind of relationship with India which
Nehru has suggested.

10. Conference adjourned with suggestion that Attlee and Nehru
might endeavour to put down in black and white concrete proposals
for consideration. Meanwhile there will be meetings of various
members of the group which may have an influence on discussions
which will take place on Monday afternoon.

11. Summary. Australia, New Zealand and to a lesser extent Canada
made their position quite clear along the lines of insisting that
there should be not even a seeming change in existing ties
whatever methods were adopted to bring India into association with
other members of British Commonwealth. The proposals of Nehru were
neither accepted nor rejected. Pakistan and Ceylon however
challenged Nehru's proposals and it may be that arising out of
this fact India will have to give further thought to the matter.

1 Dr D.F. Malan, South African Prime Minister.

2 D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon.


[AA: 1838/283, TS899/6/1, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top