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In-Depth Jobs

Volume-5, 5-11 May, 2018


India at Chogm 2018

Dr Vivek Kumar Mishra

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was held in the United Kingdom from 19 to 20 April 2018 and discussed how its member states can contribute to a better future which is fairer, more sustainable, more secure and more prosperous. In the two executive sessions of CHOGM 2018, the main issues that were discussed, are strengthening democracy and the rule of law, the state of the international trading system, achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change, and security issues faced by the Commonwealth countries. The Heads affirmed their commitment to the Commonwealth's fundamental political values, reflected in the Commonwealth Charter. The theme of the CHOGM 2018 was "Towards a Common Future" which was reflected in the discussion of the forum. Addressing the importance of the theme, British Prime Minister, Theresa May said: "we face many challenges in the world today. But the Commonwealth is a unique organisation and, at this  Summit, we have an opportunity to deliver lasting change that benefits all of our 2.4 billion people." She also stated that: "The great strength of the Commonwealth is that all our members have equal status, an equal voice, and an equal right to make that voice heard. So, as we tackle these challenges, I want to hear from everyone, and everyone will have chance to speak."

Historical Overview

The Commonwealth is a group of 53 nations, combined total population of around 2.4 billion across all six continents. It is one of the world's oldest political associations of states, with its roots in the British Empire when some countries were ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. Independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth over the years, with the last two members to join - Rwanda and Mozambique - having no historical ties to the Empire.  It promotes democracy, human rights, free trade and the rule         of law.

India is one of the founding members of the modern Commonwealth. This seems contrary because of independent India's firm anti-imperial convictions. Our first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had firmly rejected any idea of India joining the British Commonwealth after independence. At the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress in 1940, Nehru said, "India could never be an equal member of the Commonwealth unless imperialism and all that it implies is discarded." But India finally decided to join the Commonwealth when the London Declaration of 1949 incorporated Indian concerns.  One of the prominent considerations in joining the Commonwealth was that it offered a platform where India could connect with other erstwhile colonies, allowing New Delhi to continue to raise its concerns regarding imperialism and racism.  Further, the name "British Commonwealth" was dropped and the group adopted "Commonwealth of Nations" as its new name. The London Declaration was thus considered a diplomatic win for India as it set a precedent in terms of India being a Republic and yet continuing to be a member of the Commonwealth as a free and equal country.

Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s Role

The CHOGM 2018 credentials were boosted by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi's decision to attend, making him the first Indian PM to attend since 2010. Prime Minister Modi got a personal invitation wherein Prince Charles travelled to India. The Queen too sent a personal note inviting Prime Minister Modi.  Modi's decision to attend the Summit against the backdrop of India's historical lack of interest in the organisation, has sent reassuring signals especially in London. It is being interpreted as a sign of India's willingness to engage constructively with the organisation at a time when it is struggling with the very question of its relevance.

Prime Minister Modi's Key Announcements

*Prime Minister Modi announced doubling of India's contribution to the Commonwealth fund for technical cooperation and stressed the need to focus on providing developmental assistance to small island states.

*Prime Minister also stressed on capacity building of small states and small islands that are part of the Commonwealth fold. He announced that "India is going to help these small island states and coastal states in capacity building through training programmes at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa".

*Indian Soft Power diplomacy: Prime Minister Modi offered to train youngsters from Commonwealth countries at its world-class facilities under a plan that drew much applause at the meeting of Heads of State and Government in London. Prime Minister Modi told the Heads of 52 other countries that India would train 30 boys and 30 girls under the age of 16 every year with the help of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in such a belief that youth is the future of all countries and sports helps in bringing people together.

*Prime Minister Modi during his address to the second plenary of the executive session has reiterated India's focus on small island developing nations of the organisation and delivering "demand-driven, rather than donor-driven" assistance to the organisation's smaller member states.

*Bilateral Talks: Prime Minister Modi had a series of bilateral meetings and discussions, including with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and Seychelles President Danny Faure on the sidelines of the meeting. Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina had a productive exchange of views on various issues of bilateral interest. The two leaders discussed the developmental cooperation between India and Bangladesh, and also ways to implement decisions taken during earlier meetings between the two Prime Ministers. Prime Minister Modi also met Seychelles President Faure and discussed cooperation in areas of trade and investment and other bilateral issues. Cementing close ties with Mauritius, Modi met his Mauritius counterpart Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and talked about cooperation in trade and investment and maritime cooperation. The meetings with other world leaders included an interaction with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Gambian President Adama Barrow, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Prime  Minister of Solomon Islands, Rick Houenipwela. These meetings clearly show that the Summit offered ample opportunity for leaders to interact in meeting rooms for bilateral discussions on matters of mutual interest as well as cooperation over Commonwealth issues.

British and Indian Interests and Prospects

CHOGM 2018 comes at a time when Britain is facing uncertainty following Brexit, and there is renewed interest in the Commonwealth. The Government of Theresa May is making an effort to reconnect with its historical partners in the Commonwealth at a time when its traditional partners in Europe are renegotiating their terms of engagement with the United Kingdom. Today, as Britain searches for a new global identity in the aftermath of Brexit, there are those who believe that the Commonwealth, where one-third of the world's population in English-speaking democracies reside, spanning multiple ethnic and religious identities, can emerge as a significant international platform.

India is going to invest over a billion pounds in the United Kingdom. India and the UK signed multiple agreements and MoUs when Prime Minister Modi met his British counterpart Theresa May. Both countries have decided to deepen ties, especially in the areas of technology, trade and investment.

The Commonwealth of Nations will be a good platform for India to engage with a wide array of States across the world with similar political values. India is already the world's third-largest economy in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms while Britain has been the largest G20 investor in India in the 21st century. As India grows to a US$10-trillion economy by 2030, it needs own arenas and platforms, especially ones where China is not a member of Commonwealth. Modi's renewed look at the Commonwealth may well be an indication that New Delhi is eyeing the organisation as a prospective forum for its power projection. To actualise the potential of this forum, India will have to invest diplomatic capital to remould the platform according to its own strategic needs. Modi's London visit, in this context, could be considered as a step in that direction.

India is home to 55 percent of the Commonwealth's 2.3 billion population and accounts for 26 per cent of its internal trade. Therefore, its role will be crucial in revitalising the organisation. There has been a noticeable apathy in Indian outlook towards this organisation which many believe has been incapable of delivering the required results to inspire Indian interest. Trade is one of the primary areas where India must focus on. India is well aware that the Commonwealth's transcontinental membership will help India diversify its trade and economic engagements. India has already pitched for trade facilitation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to help its services sector. In the Commonwealth, India can lead in ironing the fine details surrounding important trade issues and building a consensus around them, and in turn use that consensus as a negotiating leverage at the WTO.


The objective of Prime Minister Modi's participation at CHOGM 2018 signals to advance the engagement of India with Commonwealth nations. This Summit has provided an opportunity for like-minded nations to turn their minds to global challenges of trade and security. Prime Minister Modi visit has also conveyed India's desire to see the Commonwealth increase its focus on developing country priorities. Prime Minister's decision to attend the Summit is a good signal for change of Indian attitude towards a relatively large forum. There is scope for India to play a bigger role for itself and be a more influential player in the negotiations. India as one of the most important amongstthe world's emerging powers, should take the lead in reimagining the future of the Commonwealth.

The Author is Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science and International Relations in Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. E-mail: mishrajnu@gmail.com