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India’s renewed Interest in Common Wealth – An Overview

Context

The 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was held in London on 19-20 April 2018 which was hosted by the United Kingdom.

  • Commonwealth theme for the year 2018: Towards a Common Future

NOTE: 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting saw India’s proactive role in a Commonwealth Summit nearly after a decade.

What is Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is an association of 53 independent countries that work together to pursue common goals which promote development, democracy and peace.

                        

What is Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)?

CHOGM stands for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of all the nations in the Commonwealth that takes place every two years. There are currently 53 nations in the Commonwealth, that are spread all over the globe.

  • CHOGM is a platform for all Commonwealth leaders to meet and discuss issues pertaining to the Commonwealth.
  • The motto behind the meeting is to reaffirm common values, address the shared global challenges and agree how to work to create a better future.

 

History of Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth was created in the early 1900s when nations that were formerly a part of the British Empire began to secede.

  • India is one of the founding members of the modern Commonwealth.
  • In the past, the Commonwealth has evoked a mixed reaction within India.  India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, played a key role in the creation of the modern Commonwealth in 1949, Indian policy-makers over the years have considered it as a relic of empire and steeped in colonial legacy.
  • In 1983, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hosted CHOGM in New Delhi and until 2009, Indian prime ministers have enthusiastically attended the biennial CHOGM summits.
  • Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary cooperation

Aim of CommonWealth?

Its main goal was to ease the process of British decolonization. It was seen as a way of maintaining global unity through shared language, history, and culture despite growing independence and self-governance of former British colonies.

NOTE- The nations who enter into the Commonwealth do so voluntarily and the government of any member nation can withdraw at any time, without consequence or obligation.

Some Important facts about Commonwealth?

  • The Commonwealth’s population is 2.4 billion, of which more than 60 percent is aged 29 or under.
  • The Commonwealth has observed more than 140 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980.
  • Many small and developing Commonwealth countries are among those with the lowest ecological footprints worldwide.
  • Commonwealth countries are among the highest performing in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, and make up 7 of the top 10 nations.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, Commonwealth countries make up 7 of the top 10 highest performing countries for gender equality.

Why India should connect to commonwealth?

  • India is the fastest-growing large economy in the world. After decades India now believes that a rejuvenated Commonwealth could lend greater depth to India’s global outreach.
  • In view of the shift in global economics and politics towards the East and the South, many Commonwealth states prefer to deal with emerging economies.
  • India has the largest economy in the Commonwealth after the UK, India is expected to overtake the UK as the fifth-largest economy in the world and the largest in the Commonwealth.
  • The Commonwealth can be a suitable platform for discussing the issues around visas and immigration, especially with countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia where such issues are stark.
  • India is also looking at sharing its experience in other areas such as solar energy, digitisation, and trade and investment, as part of its wider role in the Commonwealth to complement several development-oriented and capacity-building.
  • The Commonwealth provides a forum where India can raise critical issues of global concern.
  • With almost 53 nations in the forum, India can positively raise concern for discussing major international issues such as global terrorism and climate change, serving as an effective arena for India to build consensus.
  • A platform to connect with UK after Brexit.

Significance of this meet:

  • It was held in UK, the head of CommonWealth of Nations after a gap of 32 years.
  • Queen Elizabeth II, head of CHOGM, attended the summit.
  • Britain is trying to revive the grouping as Commonwealth 2.0 in the backdrop of Brexit.
  • For Britain, Brexit had made the quest for non-European Union partnerships increasingly relevant.

Outcomes of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018

  • A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the return of illegal immigrants, which expired in 2014, will be officially renewed to take into account biometric and other developments.
  • It was announced Prince Charles would ‘succeed’ his mother as the head of the Commonwealth
  • Substantive statements on the Blue Charter on Ocean Governance were made and on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment, which could together counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative
  • Prime Minister launched an Ayurvedic Centre of Excellence that will focus on “evidence based research” on Ayurveda and Yoga in London.
  • A wide range of issues of mutual interest,including separatism, cross-border terrorism, visas and immigration was discussed.

Way Forward

  • India has clear opportunities to enhance its global role and maximise its bilateral relations within the multilateral framework of the Commonwealth.
  • India’s new political interest in the Commonwealth is encouraging. This provides a focus on the Commonwealth looking towards the future.
  • It will seek to focus on enhancing trade and investment in a multilateral Commonwealth-wide context.
  • The Commonwealth may prove to be an important channel through which India can attempt to build a consensus to develop collaborative ways in dealing with threat of international terrorism.
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