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  • Harshan Kumarasingham


The paper examines the reasons that India, Pakistan and Ceylon chose to become Dominions within the Commonwealth instead of becoming republics on independence as many expected. Each of these South Asian states had different motives that compelled them to take on a form of government more associated in areas where the British had settled in significant numbers. The ‘Tropical Dominions’ differed from the settler cases and tested this vague British concept. The British and South Asians had to compromise their wishes in order to satisfy their wants. India is characterised here as the ‘Expedient Dominion’, Pakistan the ‘Siege Dominion’ and Ceylon the ‘Imitation Dominion’. This paper focuses on the years immediately prior to independence to understand the various objectives of the South Asian elites that negotiated with the British for their sovereignty and how they varied from each other and from the Dominion ideal.



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1 Anderson, Perry, ‘After Nehru’, London Review of Books, 34, 15 (2 Aug. 2012), 21; and A. G. Hopkins, ‘Rethinking Decolonization’, Past and Present, 200 (Aug. 2008), 212 n. 8.

2 A very good article that discusses the defence benefits to Britain and the Commonwealth of India and Pakistan being Dominions can be found in Singh, Anita Inder, ‘Imperial Defence and the Transfer of Power in India, 1946–1947’, International Historical Review, 4, 4 (Nov. 1982), 568–88.

3 Louis, Wm Roger and Robinson, Ronald, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonization’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 22, 3 (1994), 466.

4 Jan Morris, Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat (1998), 374.

5 Robert Grant Irving, Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi (1981), 355.

6 Ceylon was not part of the Indian Empire and governed separately from India as a Crown Colony since 1802.

7 See Hugh Purcell, Makers of the Modern World: Maharajah of Bikaner: India (2010).

8 See Murphy, Philip, Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government and the Postwar Commonwealth (Oxford, forthcoming).

9 Darwin, John, ‘A Third British Empire? The Dominion Idea in Imperial Politics’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire, iv:The Twentieth Century, ed. Brown, Judith M. and Louis, Wm Roger (Oxford, 1999), 77.

10 John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (2012), 202.

11 See Kumarasingham, Harshan, Onward with Executive Power: Lessons from New Zealand 1947–57 (Wellington, 2010), 12.

12 Wheare, K. C., The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth (Oxford, 1960), 10.

13 Marshall, Peter, ‘The Balfour Formula and the Evolution of the Commonwealth’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 90, 361 (2001), 545.

14 Bayly, C. A., Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (Cambridge, 2012), 329–30.

15 See W. David McIntyre, The Britannic Vision: Historians and the Making of the British Commonwealth of Nations, 1907–48 (2009), 194–216.

16 For more information on the interwar years regarding India and Britain, see Andrew Muldoon, Empire, Politics and the Creation of the 1935 India Act (2009); Low, D. A., Britain and Indian Nationalism: The Imprint of Ambiguity 1929–1942 (Cambridge, 2002); and Moore, R. J., The Crisis of Indian Unity, 1917–1940 (Oxford, 1974); and Fleming, N. C., ‘Diehard Conservatism, Mass Democracy, and Indian Constitutional Reform, c. 1918–1935’, Parliamentary History, 32, 2 (2013), 337–60.

17 Nehru, Jawaharlal, ‘India and the World’, Vendredi, Paris, 6 Jan. 1936, in The Oxford India Nehru, ed. Iyengar, Uma (New Delhi, 2008), 482.

18 See Peter Clarke, The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps 1889–1952 (2003).

19 ‘“India: Constitutional Position”: Cabinet Conclusions (Confidential Annex)’, 10 Dec. 1946, in The Labour Government and the End of Empire 1945–1951, Part I High Policy and Administration, British Documents on the End of Empire (BDEE), ed. Ronald Hyam (1992), 31–2.

20 Hopkins, ‘Rethinking Decolonization’, 217.

21 Mazower, Mark, No Enchanted Place: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, 2009), 2038, 189.

22 Hopkins, ‘Rethinking Decolonization’, 218.

23 Bevin to Creech Jones, 20 May 1947, CAB 118/29, in The Labour Government and the End of Empire, BDEE, ed. Hyam, 71–2.

24 Creech Jones to Bevin, 23 May 1947, CAB 118/29, in The Labour Government and the End of Empire, BDEE, ed. Hyam, 74.

25 See Ansari, Sarah, ‘Subjects or Citizens? India, Pakistan and the 1948 British Nationality Act’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 41, 2 (2013), 285312.

26 See, for example, Ward, Stuart, Australia and the British Embrace: The Demise of the Imperial Ideal (Melbourne, 2001).

27 Davidson, Jim, ‘De-Dominionisation Revisited’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 51, 1 (2005), 108–9.

28 Lowry, Donal, ‘The Captive Dominion: Imperial Realities behind Irish Diplomacy, 1922–49’, Irish Historical Studies, 36, 142 (Nov. 2008), 202–26.

29 Belich, James, Replenishing the Earth: The Settle Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939 (Oxford, 2009).

30 Lowry, Donal, ‘Rhodesia: The Lost Dominion’, in Settlers and Expatriates: Britons over the Seas, ed. Bickers, Robert, Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series (Oxford, 2010).

31 D. S. Senanayake to George Hall, 16 Aug. 1945, CO 54/986/6/2, 113, in Sri Lanka, Part II Towards Independence 1945–1948, British Documents on the End of Empire, Series B, Volume 2, ed. K. M. de Silva (1997), 40.

32 Text of a BBC broadcast on 9 Feb. 1948 by Professor K. C. Wheare, concerning the new constitutional position of British Dominions, D132, Papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma: official papers as last viceroy and first governor general of India, 1947–8, University of Southampton (henceforth Mountbatten Papers).

33 ‘Objectives Resolution’, in Rao, Shiva, The Framing of India's Constitution: A Study (Bombay, 1968), 121–2.

34 Nehru's speech to the Constituent Assembly, 13 Dec. 1946, cited in Kashyap, Subhash C., Jawaharlal Nehru and the Constitution (New Delhi, 1982), 78.

35 Austin, Granville, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (Oxford, 1966).

36 Parekh, Bhikhu, ‘The Constitution as a Statement of Indian Identity’, in Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution, ed. Bhargava, Rajeev (New Delhi, 2009), 46–7.

37 Harshan Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire: Power and the Parliamentary System in Post-Colonial India and Sri Lanka (2013), 25–45.

38 Attlee to Mountbatten, 18 Mar. 1947, in Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power 1942–47 (henceforth TOP), ix:The Fixing of a Time Limit 4 November 1946 – 22 March 1947, ed. Nicholas Mansergh (1980), 972–4.

39 Interview between Mountbatten and Nehru, 24 Mar. 1947 in TOP, x:The Mountbatten Viceroyalty Formulation of a Plan 22 March – 30 May 1947, ed. Nicholas Mansergh (1981), 11–13.

40 Churchill to Attlee, 1 July 1947, and Attlee to Churchill, 4 July 1947, CHUR 2/43 B, Sir Winston Churchill Papers, Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

41 Singh, Anita Inder, ‘Keeping India in the Commonwealth: British Political and Military Aims, 1947–1949’, Journal of Contemporary History, 20, 3 (July 1985), 472.

42 Interview between Mountbatten and Auchinleck, 5 Apr. 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 134.

43 Interview between Mountbatten and Krishna Menon, 17 Apr. 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 310–13.

44 Minutes of the India and Burma Committee, 28 May 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 1019–20.

45 See Copland, Ian, The Princes of India in the Endgame of Empire (Cambridge, 1997).

46 Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire, 92–101.

47 Ramusack, Barbara N., The Indian Princes and their States (Cambridge, 2004), 272–3.

48 Chatterjee, Partha, A Possible India: Essays in Criticism (New Delhi, 1997), 23.

49 Menon to Mountbatten, 27 Sept. 1948, F38, Mountbatten Papers.

50 Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire, 46–89.

51 Interview between Mountbatten, Nehru and Sardar Patel, 17 May 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 870–1.

52 Khan, Yasmin, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (New Haven, 2008), 113–17.

53 Moore, R. J., Making the New Commonwealth (Oxford, 1987), 18.

54 Wainwright, A. Martin, Inheritance of Empire: Britain, India and the Balance of Power in Asia, 1938–55 (Westport, 1994), 61–7.

55 ‘The Commonwealth Relationship’, Feb. 1949, DO 121/72, The National Archives (henceforth TNA).

56 Lloyd, Lorna, Diplomacy with a Difference: The Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner 1880–2006 (Leiden, 2007), 127–38; Louis and Robinson, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonization’, 473; and Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire, 114–70.

57 Chatterji, Joya, ‘South Asian Histories of Citizenship, 1946–1970’, Historical Journal, 55, 4 (Dec. 2012), 1058.

58 See Jalal, Ayesha, The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge, 1990).

59 Interview between Mountbatten and Liaquat, 11 Apr. 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 201.

60 Interview between Mountbatten and Baldev Singh, 22 Apr. 1947, and interview between Mountbatten and Krishna Menon, 22 Apr. 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 370–4.

61 Minutes by Ismay and Mountbatten, 25–8 Apr. 1947, in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 437–40.

62 Attlee to King, Chifley, Fraser and Smuts, 23 May 1947, in in TOP, x, ed. Mansergh, 973.

63 Note for Mountbatten by Sir B. N. Rau, 12 June 1947, D131, Mountbatten Papers.

64 Note of meeting, 6 Aug. 1947, D316, Mountbatten Papers.

65 Ian Talbot, Pakistan: A Modern History, 3rd edn (2008), 123.

66 Viceroy's Personal Report, 4 July 1947, in TOP, xi:The Mountbatten Viceroyalty: Announcement and Reception of the 3 June Plan 31 May – 7 July 1947, ed. Nicholas Mansergh (1982), 898–9.

67 Note by Erskine Crum, 3 July 1947, in Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers, iii: On the Threshold of Pakistan 1 July – 25 July 1947, ed. Z. H. Zaidi (Islamabad, 1996), 804–5.

68 Dawn, 12 July 1947.

69 Interview between Mountbatten and Jinnah, 24 June 1947, D315, Mountbatten Papers.

70 See De Silva, K. M., A History of Sri Lanka, Special Sri Lanka edn (Colombo, 2005), 570–89.

71 [Soulbury Report] Colonial Office, Ceylon: Report of the Commission on the Constitution, Cmd 6677 (1945), 110.

72 For a more in-depth comparison between the decolonisation in Sri Lanka and India, see Harshan Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire, and ‘The Jewel in ‘East, yet Has its Flaws”: The Deceptive Tranquility Surrounding Sri Lankan Independence, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, Working Paper no. 72 (June 2013).

73 Manor, James, The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon (Cambridge, 1989), 199.

74 Kumarasingham, A Political Legacy of the British Empire, 1–24.

75 Minute by K. O. Roberts-Wray, 14 July 1947, CO 537/2226, 1, in Sri Lanka, Part II, BDEE, ed. De Silva, 318.

76 ‘Ceylon: Constitution: Draft Agreements Precedent to Self-Government: Defence’, 1947, CO 537/2217, TNA.

77 Jackson, Ashley, ‘The Empire/Commonwealth and the Second World War’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 100, 412 (2011), 6578.

78 Senanayake to Hall, 16 Aug. 1945, CO 54/986/6/2, 113, in Sri Lanka, Part II, BDEE, ed. De Silva, 40–2.

79 Nira Wickramasinghe, ‘Sri Lanka's Independence: Shadows over a Colonial Graft’, in Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, ed. Paul R. Brass (2010), 46–7.

80 Soulbury to Hall, 5 Oct. 1945, CO 54/986/6/3, 174 in Sri Lanka, Part II, BDEE, ed. De Silva, 110–13.

81 Patrick Gordon Walker, ‘Report on Ceylon’, 17 Mar. 1948, CAB 129/26, in Sri Lanka, Part II, BDEE, ed. De Silva, 365.

82 McIntyre, The Britannic Vision, 209–16.

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