When Chifley met Nehru

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  • Published 20180206
  • ISBN: 9781925603293
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IN A LONDON hotel, two prime ministers sit down to breakfast. One is tall, lean, white-haired and speaks in a raspy, unmistakably working-class Australian accent. In public and private he smokes a pipe near constantly. The other is a protégé of Mahatma Gandhi who has spent over ten years detained in British colonial prisons in India, whose charisma and erudition have made him world famous; his preferred dress is an achkan, a knee-length coat. On this morning in April 1949, it’s fair to say, they appear to passers-by quite the odd couple.

The two men discuss a dispute that has brought newly independent India to the verge of leaving the Commonwealth. India seeks assurances that the postwar Commonwealth is a genuine association of free and equal members, not ‘led’ by a still-imperial Britain. In the words of the Indian leader who sits here at breakfast, India needs to know that the Commonwealth cannot ‘bind [India]…in any way’; that there will be no inference of subordination to Britain; that India ‘has nothing to do with England constitutionally or legally’. India will not continue to place itself under the British Crown, given Britain colonised India in that Crown’s name. In sum, India is trying to ascertain whether remnants of the Empire shadow the postwar Commonwealth.

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