Monday, July 16, 2012


                                                            A TALE OF TWO JUBILEES

As the United Kingdom celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of their monarch (Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952 though her Coronation took place a year later) comparisons from history readily come to mind. The three longest reigning British monarchs – two Elizabeths and one Victoria - have all been remarkable women, Elizabeth’s 45-year rule (1558-1603) is considered one of the most glorious in British history. A secure Church of England was established. The arts flourished. The Queen is said to have attended the first performance of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.  She launched the overseas imperial project, notably the East India Company, which laid the foundation of the vast empire over which Queen Victoria was later to preside. For all that excellence she could not make it to her Golden Jubilee.
Queen Elizabeth II had her Silver Jubilee in 1977 and her Golden Jubilee in 2002. However this one is that bit more special as she is only the second British Monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, the first being her great great grandmother Queen Victoria in 1897. Victoria remains the longest serving British Monarch in history and to beat her reign Queen Elizabeth II needs to remain on the throne for almost four more years. The queen’s mother lived to be 101. Hopefully, the daughter will live longer and beat Victoria’s record.
Compared to the prolonged pageantry of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this June weekend party for Elizabeth II may appear a subdued affair and understandably so. Whereas the former was Her Imperial Majesty the latter is plain and simple Her Majesty. As well as being the Queen of England and Wales, Victoria was also the first monarch to use the title Empress of India. Her reign (1837-1901) was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire where the sun never set. These were hugely eventful years, from the abolition of slavery to the Boer War.  Britain was rid of the spectre of Napoleon and the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Her colonies supplied the raw material and absorbed the finished products making the country rich and prosperous. Her period witnessed significant social and economic change at home. Her strict moral code made her an iconic figure. The term Victorian morality is often used to describe the ethos of the period.
 As per Victoria’s wish the Jubilee was celebrated as a festival of the British Empire. The procession in which the queen participated included troops from each British colony and dependency, together with soldiers sent by Indian princes and chiefs (who were subordinate to Victoria as the Empress of India). The Diamond Jubilee celebration was an occasion marked by great outpourings of affection for the septuagenarian queen, who was by then confined to a wheelchair. Festivities were replicated in all her colonies, titles were bestowed and several existing and new magnificent monuments carried her name. Queen Victoria remains the most commemorated British monarch in history, with statues to her erected throughout the British Empire and several places and magnificent monuments named after her. They are one too many. Victoria Province in Australia, Lake Victoria in Africa and Victoria Terminal railway station in Mumbai are by way of illustration. India celebrated the Jubilee with full gusto and several institutions and magnificent structures were created bearing her name; most of them still survive.
 In the case of Elizabeth II the pull of history has been the other way highlighting the demise of Britain as a great global power. If Victoria had an Empire Elizabeth is the ceremonial head of a democratic Commonwealth of Nations. The 1956 Suez crisis revealed, with humiliating clarity, the limited postwar geopolitical capacity of the United Kingdom. As decolonisation ground on, culminating in the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, the tides of empire came back to these shores. All is not lost though. She continues to be the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states (known as the Commonwealth realms)  as well as head of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations. She is Supreme Governor of the Church of England and, in some of her realms, carries the title Defender of the Faith as part of her full title.
The queen seems to have more than made up for the loss of her territory by enjoying enormous goodwill of her subjects. After a rocky period including the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and Prince Charles’ dalliance with a much older woman, today's royals are resurgent in Britain. A recent poll shows that 80 per cent of Britons want the country to remain a monarchy. No wonder therefore that at all her programmes during the official Jubilee Weekend. people turned out in large numbers despite foul weather and cheered her all the way. The four-day national jubilee holiday from 2nd to 5th June (not at the Queen’s express wish, unlike Victoria) began on Sunday with the Queen indulging in her love of horse racing at the famed Epsom Derby horse race, where she was greeted by enthusiastic, flag-waving crowds. Later the same day she joined a spectacular flotilla of 1,000 boats for a dazzling display of British pageantry on London's River Thames. Music ranging from the national anthem and chiming bells to Bollywood tunes and the famous James Bond theme blared from boats Thousands of people lined the river in an atmosphere, in spite of heavy rain, of enjoyment and excitement. On the long ceremonial sail down the Thames on board the magnificently decorated barge Spirit of Chartwell stood the 86-year old monarch throughout, waving in response... On Monday evening, again, thousands of people stood in the Mall, in front of Buckingham Palace, to listen to the concert in honour of Her Majesty. Such pageantry in the face of groaning economy was lapped up by her subjects rubbishing cynical comments by anti-monarchists and doom-sayers. And this was only the start of a series of national events this summer which have got British pride swelling up to tremendous proportions. Wait for the London Olympics. Did the government decide to host the event with the Diamond Jubilee in mind?
Several nations around the world, for example Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean countries are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of their constitutional monarch. The celebrations include parades, concerts, and community get-together’s on all scales, from small community picnics to enormous events for thousands of people. In Canada a new commemorative medal has been created to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne as Queen of Canada. During the year of celebrations, 60 000 deserving Canadians will be recognized. In Australia the Perth Mint has released 60 one-kilogram gold coins in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. The mint is also releasing 600 silver coins. The coins will be Australian legal tender.
Unlike the first Elizabethans the people who exemplify the age of the current monarch may not be defined as poets and adventurers. The modern Elizabethan era will however be remembered for the ethnic, racial and religious transformation of Britain. Elizabeth II has seen Victoria’s empire transformed into Commonwealth and her country remade into a more modern kind of world power, in finance and the arts, democracy and diplomacy. The House of Lords may soon become an elected body. Despite the transformation of culture and class, the erosion of her economy, the end of deference and a distinctive sense of Britishness, the country has maintained a strong sense of national pride and self-belief in which the queen herself is bound up. If the proposal to rename the historic Big Ben in London as the Elizabeth Tower goes through, it will be well deserved.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Jha
(The author is a former Director General of Police, Bihar and a freelance writer.)

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