Kamalesh Sharma, who steps down as Commonwealth secretary-general after two terms next week, believes that the global profile of the organisation has been raised during his tenure since 2008, with several major initiatives in trade, climate change and democracy.
Sharma, a retired Indian Foreign Service officer (1965 batch) who was India’s high commissioner in London from 2004 to 2008, was elected secretary-general of the 53-nation organisation for two four-year terms. He will be succeeded by Patricia Scotland on April 1.
Founded in 1949 mainly at the initiative of Jawaharlal Nehru as an organisation comprising former British colonies, the Commonwealth makes its presence felt in several international fora. Its members include countries without historical ties to the British empire.
“My main challenge was to pick up an organisation that does bits of this and bits of that, lift its profile and give it substance through a charter. Several pioneering initiatives have been launched that are particularly valuable for small states in the Pacific and the Caribbean,” Sharma, 74, told HT in his office in the 300-year-old Marlborough House on the Mall.
Packing up to relocate to New Delhi after handing over, Sharma said key achievements during his tenure included setting up mechanisms for trade and debt for smaller states, pushing for democracy, developing a youth development index, and digitisation.
At the Malta summit in November 2015, Commonwealth heads of government “commended his contributions to fostering a Commonwealth that is a strong and respected voice in the world; enlarging its networks, including through the ‘Commonwealth Connects’ collaboration platform and sustaining its global relevance and profile”.
Critics of the Commonwealth wonder what is the point of the organisation but Sharma is clear that it is for “great global good… and because of its composition, if the Commonwealth can agree on something important, it is already a prototype of a global idea”.
Commonwealth member-states have different political cultures but the 16-point charter formulated under his watch makes it incumbent to hold free, fair and credible elections; ensure the separation of the powers of the executive, legislature and judiciary; ensure the independence of the judiciary; provide space for an opposition and civil society to function freely and give the media a level playing field to function in.
Sharma played key behind-the-scene roles in political developments in Fiji, Guyana, Maldives and Sri Lanka in recent years.
It helped that the head of the Commonwealth lived close by, down the Mall, in Buckingham Palace -- Queen Elizabeth, considered the ‘ultimate glue’ of the 53-nation organisation and with whom Sharma interacted often during his tenure.