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The Paper Commonwealth

Dr Joya Chatterji explores the history of the Commonwealth through the archives and what they reveal about the tensions between white and non-white dominions of the British Empire.

As the director-elect of the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge, Dr Joya Chatterji explores the remarkable archives at her disposal to find out what they reveal about the tense negotiations to bring India and Pakistan - the first non-white dominions of the British empire - into the Commonwealth. And how the 'old Commonwealth' - Australia, Canada and South Africa -respond to the inclusion of the 'new Commonwealth' into that union. And about the key role played by South Africa in the aftermath of the Boer War - from its white supremacist standpoint - and how it was ultimately brought to heel by the Commonwealth itself.

From the early history of this lasting institution to the plotting of so-called allies, the deep mistrust between India and Pakistan, their zealous attempts to contain mass migration, and prevent the return home of migrants, all produced ingredients that went into the making of the Commonwealth as we know it today. Desperate memos, letters home to relatives and other writings during these times bring the process to life.

Such was the birth of the new Commonwealth in 1947. Today it includes 53 independent countries.
Radio 4 listeners will enjoy the human detail and the horse trading that show that international politics were just a complicated then as they are now. As the news fills with stories from the Glasgow Games, we can stifle a smile in the knowledge that it nearly all didn't happen, while thinking also of the people whose lives were caught up in, and shaped by, its creation.

Producer: Mohini Patel.

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28 minutes

Last on

Mon 21 Jul 2014 11:00