In the UK, there is a democratically elected prime minister but the Monarch is the Head of State, although the latter is not (directly) involved in government. Likewise, the UK could have done the same in India, establishing an Indian-run Government but with the British Monarch as its head. Why did the UK not choose this option when granting independence to India?

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    It was not a choice of UK, it was choice of India. India by creating a constitution declared itself as a republic, leaving the Commonwealth realm.
    – Santiago
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 20:38
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    Please notice that Ireland and South-Africa also shifted from Commonwealth realms to republics several years (or even decades) after independence.
    – Pere
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 23:34
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    @Henry The relevance of Ireland is that it became a republic somehow against the wishes of the British (they find it "morally objectionable" in the words of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… ). As Santiago and the answer say, India becoming a republic wasn't UK choice, as it wasn't for Ireland. It also wasn't for South Africa and it wouldn't be for Australia if republicans there managed to get Australian constitution amended. India is not an exception, because not being UK choice is the rule, at least since 1931.
    – Pere
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 8:15
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    @Pere The moral objection was to unilateral abolition of the oath (required by an earlier 1921 treaty ratified on both sides) "I (name) do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to H.M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations." But that was in 1935-37, not in 1948.
    – Henry
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 9:41
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    @Pere ... The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London ruled that, though unilaterally abolishing the oath was probably unconstitutional since the Irish Free State constitution was supposed to uphold the treaty, there was nothing they or anybody else outside Ireland could do about it after the Statute of Westminster 1931 gave the Irish Free State and some other dominions total control of domestic legislation
    – Henry
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 9:43

3 Answers 3


That's an interesting question. When India first gained independence from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947 it was as The Dominion of India, with King George VI as king and Head of State.

India became a sovereign democratic republic when the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950. This repealed the Indian Independence Act, and removed the king as head of state.

The Constitution of India was drafted by the Constituent Assembly of India, which, in turn, was elected by elected members of the provincial assemblies.

So it wasn't the UK that allowed India to be a republic, it was the elected representatives of the Indian people themselves who chose to be a democratic republic.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference, Britain and its dominions had agreed they were:

"... equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown".

Given that, the UK could hardly insist that any of its dominions should always remain a dominion, or complain when one chose to become a republic.

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    You can't simultaneously give a country independence and demand they form their government a certain way.
    – user15620
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 0:47
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    @Selva I've edited the question to explain why. Britain had already agreed in 1926 that her dominions had equal status in terms of their domestic affairs. Once India had become a dominion, Britain had given up all its rights to dictate how they ruled themselves. Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:20
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    It simply reflected the new view of the world following the catastrophe of the First World War. It's worth reading the full text of the Summary of Proceedings from the 1926 Imperial Conference. Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:41
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    +1. Same thing happened with the other dominion of South Asia, Pakistan (Which at that time included Bangladesh as well). Founded as Dominion of Pakistan, became a republic in 1956 with the constitution which designated the country as a Republic, free of British monarchy.
    – NSNoob
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 7:08
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    @Selva This is a subject for a book (or a couple). But the basic idea of many of these "master-slave" relationships wasn't actually about servitude, really; the point was that the relationship was beneficial to both sides (e.g. vassalage - you exchange some of your independence for protection and other support). Some used violence to force rules that were not quite as happy, but that was not the point, just bullying. The British didn't necessarily consider themselves "conquerors" - more like "bringers of civilization"; the status of dominion made this explicit. Did India benefit from leaving?
    – Luaan
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 15:25

Because that's what independent means. There were only three options:

  1. keep India as a dominion, with the monarch as head of state;
  2. give India independence and forbid them from having the monarch as head of state;
  3. give India independence and let them choose whether or not the monarch is head of state.

The second is a possibility, since the monarch could simply refuse to act as head of state of the newly independent country, even if India wanted to be a constitutional monarchy. But there's no practical way that Britain could compel an independent country to adopt the monarch as their head of state, and nobody would call the country "independent" if Britain did that.

  • That wouldn't have worked in India, which earned its independence the hard way and wouldn't have submitted to that kind of intervention but I am not sure about the notion that nobody would call the country “independent” if Britain retained a level of control. Consider what France did for decades in most (but interestingly not all) of its former African colonies: It would intervene pretty heavily in local politics, do and undo governments, support coups to get rid of specific leaders, all the while securing widespread international recognition for these countries' tainted independence.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 5:16
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    Canada and Australia are quite certainly independent but they both have Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. This was not by choice at independence, but they have not chosen to remove the Crown. Commented May 10, 2017 at 8:02
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    @Relaxed "Sure, you're independent. But you can't change your system of government and you can't pass any laws without our consent." "Er, we're what?" Commented May 10, 2017 at 11:11
  • @DavidRicherby Your point being? India would not have accepted it and said “Er, we're what?”. But that only means that India would not call that independence and I acknowledged that already. Other countries basically accepted it and got all the trappings of independent countries (UN seat, etc.) You and I might agree that it's a weak and unfair notion of independence but it's simply not true that “nobody” would call such a country independent. My point is that it's an important distinction.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:20
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    @Relaxed But I think there's an important distinction that, say, Australia and Canada chose to retain the British monarch as their head of state. That context strongly suggests that a later choice to end that relationship would be respected. In contrast, if Britain had somehow forced India to be a constitutional monarchy against its will, then we'd already be in a situation where Britain wasn't allowing India to exercise its sovereignty in the way of its choosing. I really can't see how India could be called "independent" in that situation. Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:45

Because each dominion decided for itself when it became independent. Australia and Canada retained the queen/king as the head of state. But Ireland and South Africa elected to become republics, when they became independent (after the other two).

Compared to the others, India was the latest to become independent, and when she did so, she opted for a "republican" form of government, like the second, later pair, of countries in the previous paragraph. If Britain had managed to dictate otherwise, India's "independence" would not have been real.

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