It is not the British Queen who has decided to stay away from the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi — rather her surprise absence from India in the autumn will be the result of a decision taken by the former Labour government.
The government advice behind the decision, which was announced in April but went unnoticed until the media picked it up last weekend, would have been made “months ago – we are talking quite a number of months here,” said a British source.
Just like the Indian President, the British royal family is dependent on government advice for official foreign tours.
But there is every reason to believe that Queen Elizabeth II, who has attended every Commonwealth Games during her reign of over half a century, would have been only too happy to open the one in New Delhi.
Indeed, Buckingham Palace is keen to stress the warmth that surrounded the visit of President Pratibha Patil to Britain on October 27-29 last year. Patil was given the full honours of a British state visit and put up at Windsor Castle where she received a stunning ceremonial welcome.
But it is now clear that the decision for the Queen not to attend the New Delhi Games would have been taken by the British foreign ministry around the time of Patil’s visit or soon after. There may well have been discussions between the Labour government and the Royal family about the Games opening during President Patil’s visit to Britain, source said.
It is now too late for the Queen to change her plans. She makes up to two foreign visits a year — one in the summer and the other in the autumn. She is off to Canada at the end of June and will make a speech at the United Nations on her way back.
Although her autumn plans are yet to be firmed up, the Palace has made it clear that it will not be New Delhi.
The reason appears to be that a visit to India — even if it is for opening the Games — will have to be a full state visit. Her one-day visit to Melbourne for the 2006 Games, for instance, was followed by a full royal visit to Australia.
The reasons for the advice against the Queen opening the New Delhi Games will be known by the British and Indian governments. The good news for India is that her 2011 foreign tours diary is still empty.