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Gush fest for British royals shows colonial charm, low self-esteem

Officials have procedures that follow a like-for-like protocol in which seniority, dignity and equality are sought after. However, nothing in any of that stops our celebrities from drooling over British royals

analysis Updated: Apr 12, 2016 00:51 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

Where was Padmini Kolhapure when Prince William and his spouse Kate Middleton charmed Bollywood celebrities at a gala reception in Mumbai?

One could not spot her in the pictures, but I can imagine Ms. Kolhapure, if invited, could have gone up to the British royal and whispered: “Guess what? I kissed your dad!”

Long ago, in 1980, when the city was called Bombay, the actress who has acted in appropriately titled films such as Prem Rog, shot to her 15 minutes of global fame when she kissed Prince Charles on his cheek, a year before his subsequently rocky marriage to Lady Diana Spencer.

As many as 35 years more have passed, and Indians are still not shedding their obsession with British royals. And you thought we had won Independence in 1947 and have changed the names of cities to prove we have.

But no sir. Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata have not changed the attitudes we saw in the erstwhile Madras, Bombay and Calcutta.

Er, may we add Connaught Place turned Rajiv Chowk to that list?

On the one hand, there may be nationalist pride in renaming our cities, but in reality, even powerful, rich and famous Indians, are in awe of the British royals.

I would call it an ironic display of low self-esteem.

Because officially, India has moved on.

Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, put off their shoes before paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi during a visit to ''Gandhi Smriti'' in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

Read | Sachin bowled over by their humility: Will-Kate pick up the willow at Oval

Sardar Vallabhai Patel brought princes of India into the mainstream of democratic politics with his unification act. Most royal titles were subsequently abolished. In 1950, going one step ahead of the UK, which only has an unwritten constitution, India became a regular republic with a proper Constitution – albeit blessed a British blueprint.

In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the Privy Purse to erstwhile royals in a momentous year that also saw her fend off threats of the US 7th Fleet to liberate Bangladesh with a war victory over Washington-blessed Pakistan.

Those were all grand acts of sovereignty by a proud, though still poor, nation.

India follows diplomatic protocol with nations worldwide. Leaders and officials have procedures that follow a like-for-like pattern in which seniority, dignity and equality are sought after.

However, nothing in any of that stops our film stars, cricketers and assorted celebrities from drooling over British royals – and the media gushes to match and feed their frenzy. It is as if the current royals are proxies for the long departed but much missed viceroy and his lady.

Every time a serving Indian prime minister visits a developed Western country, the local media mostly takes a muted note, despite talk of gains in trade and strategic partnerships. But figurehead royals from Britain are enough for Indians.

Diplomatic protocol and political sovereignty are apparently no match for the soft power of colonial charms. You can change Bombay to Mumbai, but you can’t make India’s celebrities feel it.

Sachin Tendulkar, India’s most respected cricketer, Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s biggest celebrity, and even industrialist Rahul Bajaj, whose grandfather was a freedom fighter, were among those in attendance for “WillKat” literally walking a red carpet as they arrived in India last weekend for a week-long visit.

A combo picture shows, from left to right, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wearing the creation of Alexander McQueen (red), Indian designer Anita Dongre's Mughal prints inspired tunic, British designer Jenny Packham's royal blue beaded gown and Emilia Wickstea's cream dress during her India visit. (PTI)

Read | Stars and the royals: William and Kate get a taste of Bollywood

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as the royals are called, are no doubt good looking, alluring and all that. But what really scores is the aura – the brand equity – of colonial charm.

There is something about colonial vestiges: it weaves a charming sense of inadequacy even among great achievers. Much like a Mills & Boon woman of the old-fashioned romantic novels looking for the approving male gaze, movie stars, cricketers and entpreneurs alike love the blessings of the colonials.

We have won the World Cup in cricket twice, the first time in the land of its birth. The current British government is worried about Tata Steel pulling out of UK, which might hurt local jobs badly. We live in an age when Apple phones are made in China and Boeing jets run on software written in India.

But let all that not stop the gush festivals.