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India may lead Commonwealth meeting in April

An Indian official said the country saw the proposal as acknowledgement of its importance in terms of size, economic relevance, and population.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2017 07:20 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Commonwealth,Commonwealth Games,Asia
Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla during their visit to India last month.(PTI File Photo)

The UK has formally asked India whether it would like to take a lead role in the 52-nation Commonwealth grouping.

The proposal comes ahead of next April’s Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London and at a time when Prince Charles is expected to take over from Queen Elizabeth as the head of state of some of the former territories of the erstwhile British Empire.

A senior Indian government official confirmed that the UK had sounded out India’s interest during Prince Charles’ visit to New Delhi last month.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, this person added that the proposal is being debated within the government with both the foreign affairs and the national security establishment providing their views.

Diplomatic circles in London were unaware of the proposal, but said it could have been made at the political level. Hindustan Times learns that there is an older proposal for a regional Commonwealth hub in New Delhi. The Indian official said the country saw the proposal as acknowledgement of its importance in terms of size, economic relevance, and population.

He added that the proposal entails that New Delhi play a larger role in the Commonwealth inter-governmental group; 18 of the 52 countries are from Africa and India is keen to use the platform to better its relations with them, especially given that many African countries have resources it needs.

Officials in India’s foreign ministry say India is interested because the world is becoming multi-polar, especially with the rise of China, and the country thinks a grouping of 52 nations could well be a pole.

Still, the thinking in New Delhi is that the countries in the grouping need to be bound diplomatically and economically, either through preferential trade agreements or smoother visa processes. “Merely being leader of 52 countries whose heads of state meet for lunch every two years is of no use. A group of 52 countries with over $10 trillion GDP should be a voice among the comity of nations… just like European Union or ASEAN or SCO,” said a senior official in the foreign ministry, asking not to be identified.

India, the foreign ministry officials add, is keen to explore ways to make the grouping more substantial than just one of countries with a similar imperial past.

No decision has been taken yet, the two Indian officials said.

(Prasun Sonwalkar in London contributed to this report)

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 07:19 IST