NEW DELHI -- Just hours before news of Queen Elizabeth II's death spread, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a fiery speech urging India to shed its colonial ties in a ceremony to rename a boulevard that once honored King George V.
Rajpath, formerly called Kingsway, was a “symbol of slavery” under the British Raj, he said. Instead, under the newly named Kartavya Path that leads to the iconic India Gate, “a new history has been created,” Modi beamed.
His speech last Thursday was the latest in a concerted drive to purge India of its colonial relics. It was also a clear sign that the country, once the largest of Britain's colonies that endured two centuries of imperial rule, has moved on.
The renovated avenue now boasts a black granite statue of Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, in the place where a mold of King George V, Elizabeth's grandfather, once stood.
The queen’s death provoked sympathies to a deeply respected figure from some while for a few others, it jogged memories of a bloody history under the British crown. But among most regular Indians, the news was met with an indifferent shrug.
The British monarchy “holds precisely zero relevance to Indians today — they are of no importance,” said Kapil Komireddi, author of “Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India.”
British rule shaped the country in significant ways, but India has since overtaken the British economy in size.
“The country has come into its own ... As a rising power, India can gain a lot from the U.K. but the U.K. can gain a whole lot more from India,” Komireddi added.
On Thursday, Modi penned a heartfelt note, calling the queen “a stalwart of our times,” while the government declared a day of mourning. But for most Indians born a generation after independence from the British in 1947, there is little attachment to the queen or the royal family.