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Indian in race for C'wealth top post

world Updated: Apr 17, 2007 09:59 IST
Vijay Dutt
Highlight Story

With the Maltese government’s announcement that it is putting forward the candidacy of Foreign Minister Michael Frendo for the post of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the race is hotting up with names of more candidates being touted about in diplomatic circles in London.

The contest appears to be getting more India-centric as well. An Indian candidate looked likely to be a front-runner as soon as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa floated the idea that SAARC member countries should work for the election of an Indian as the next Secretary-General. The name of Mani Shankar Aiyer came up in this context.

There are reports that Shashi Tharoor is also likely to enter the race and so is the high-profile Commonwealth insider, the Srinagar-born Dr Mohan Kaul, Director General of the Commonwealth Business council (CBC).

A doctorate from Sorbonne and author of many books, Dr Kaul has been with the Commonwealth for over 20 years. He has turned the CBC into a huge success, say diplomats. He was the first Indian-origin person to be chosen by Tony Blair to head the CBC when it was formed following the CHOGM in Edinburgh in 1997.

Speaking to HT, Dr Kaul admitted that he was very much interested in becoming the Secretary-General. “Yes, I would be interested in holding the post if the heads of member states approve at the CHOGM meet in Kampala (in November).“

Asked if he would seek India’s support, he said, “Of course. I would seek the country’s support. I would very much love to get an endorsement from my country of origin.“

Dr Kaul is optimistic about the support of many countries with whom he has been working closely for many years. He once told HT that with countries like India and South Africa playing a bigger role in the Commonwealth, there was a clear shift in the group’s approach. “It is worth taking a fresh look at the Commonwealth, not through the rear view mirror, but at the road ahead: its future leadership role in a globalised society, helping its members meet the challenges of the 21st century, building competitive capability.”

Kaul said, “I expect support from a large number of countries, having been in the Commonwealth for 20 years and working at the international level for 30 years. I have worked with a large number of countries that have very good rapport with me and opinion about me."

According to insiders, Dr Kaul has been adviser to presidents of several African countries on economy, trade and investment, and is a member of the presidential advisory councils of Mozambique and Zambia.

He also possibly feels that the numbers would speak for him. Under his leadership of the CBC, intra-Commonwealth trade has grown from $2 trillion to $3 trillion and investment flows have reached over $160 billion. Commonwealth trade and investment now accounts for over 20 per cent of the world total.