When Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1952, the British Empire had recently lost the proverbial “Jewel in the Crown,” India, and the subcontinent was still reeling from the bloodshed of the partition that had led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
Despite the bitter history of colonialism in South Asia, Ayesha Jalal, professor of history at Tufts University, told VOA, it’s “remarkable” that the queen “was not a controversial figure in the otherwise fairly dense annals of South Asian anti-colonial nationalism.”
Jalal credits “good PR [public relations].”
Salima Hashmi, a Pakistani artist and art historian, remembers as a schoolgirl waving at the queen’s motorcade in Lahore when the British monarch visited the young country for the first time in 1961.
Hashmi recalled to VOA that years later, as the principal of the National College of Arts in Lahore, she hosted Queen Elizabeth during her second and final visit to Pakistan.
Hashmi said she was impressed by the queen’s “great ease with every kind of person, and her ability to make other people feel comfortable.”
Analyzing the queen’s legacy in South Asia, Hashmi told VOA that “as someone who had inherited the idea of the empire,” Queen Elizabeth “tried very hard to make the Commonwealth viable,” but the concept faded over time.
Queen Elizabeth ruled during a period of waning British influence in South Asia.
Jalal said that despite America emerging as the powerbroker, the royals “have been able to keep a rather balanced view of South Asia. They’ve kept their cultural presence, if not their political presence, to the same extent.”
The queen visited India three times and Pakistan twice during her 70-year reign.
While Britain could have done more to address the differences between the rival nations, Jalal said the queen was “an icon, who was seen as able to do good or to try and do good in the world.”
By the time of her death, Hashmi said, the queen was a “fading imprint” for South Asia, and people would be “intrigued to know how the Prince of Wales [now King Charles III] sees his role ahead, and whether he will have that kind of ceremonial clout.”