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UK wants India to take on more important role in Commonwealth, says diplomat

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in the UK on Tuesday and participate in bilateral meetings the next day before a ‘Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting’ dinner hosted by British Prime Minister Theresa May in London.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2018 14:12 IST
PTI, London
UK India,Britain PM,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of the 12th G-20 Summit, in Hamburg, Germany.(PTI File Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week will mark India’s enhanced engagement with the multilateral organisation, including increased financial and other contributions.

An Indian prime minister will attend the summit, which is held every two years, after a hiatus of nearly a decade, having skipped CHOGMs in Perth, Colombo and Malta since 2009. The Indian government has said that Prime Minister Modi’s attendance at the summit, from April 18 to 20, symbolises the country’s wider efforts to step up its role across global forums.

“India’s engagement with multilateral bodies has been increasing consistently and the Commonwealth is no different. There is a clear desire to play a greater leadership role in the international arena and the UK wants India, as the largest country in the Commonwealth, to take on a more important role within the organisation,” said Dinesh Patnaik, the deputy high commissioner of India to the UK.

This stepped-up engagement is likely to take the form of increased activity within the Commonwealth, including greater resources and manpower as well as financial contributions.

According to senior officials, Prime Minister Modi’s decision to attend the summit was also influenced by a very personal letter addressed to him by Queen Elizabeth II, the Head of the Commonwealth.

As Britain takes over the two-year Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth at the heads of government deliberations, it will mark the last such summit to be hosted by the Queen.

With the 91-year-old monarch having ruled out long-haul travel, she is unlikely to travel to any future CHOGMs to be hosted by other member-states.

This has also triggered widespread speculation over whether her son and heir, Prince Charles, would be anointed as the next Head of the organisation. As the position is not hereditary, a decision on succession will be taken collectively by the 53 heads of government of the Commonwealth.

This subject is expected to be the central feature of deliberations when the leaders get together for the CHOGM leaders’ retreat on April 20 at the grand Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle.

The retreat is described as the high-point of the summit, when the leaders get together in an informal setting without any pre-set agenda or being accompanied by their usual coterie of civil servants and advisers.

“At the retreat -- unique to the Commonwealth -- heads meet privately to discuss collaboration on global and Commonwealth priorities. They will also consider reform and renewal of the Commonwealth,” a Commonwealth statement said.

There is reportedly no general consensus over the Prince of Wales as the next Head of the Commonwealth, with India yet to reveal its stand on a successor to the Queen.

The 69-year-old royal is reportedly keen to step into his mother’s shoes but the decision will be up to the presidents and prime ministers representing the 53 member-countries, which will then be announced by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

The leaders may not be able to arrive at a decision on the matter at the end of the retreat, in which case it will roll over to the next CHOGM.

The Commonwealth members, which represent the former colonies of the British Empire, have a combined population of 2.4 billion, with nearly half of that concentrated in India -- making it the largest member-country.

“It is a great time for India and it is exciting to see the energised way in which new opportunities are being taken up,” Baroness Scotland said recently.

According to the ‘Commonwealth Trade Review 2018’ released earlier this week, India is the top recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) from within the Commonwealth and is the second-most lucrative source of investment within the organisation. Between 2005 and 2016, India remained the top recipient of greenfield FDI from the Commonwealth, more than doubling the amount it received over 10 years.

“There has been a complete sea change of attitude towards the Commonwealth, which is entirely to India’s credit and to the Commonwealth’s benefit. This has given the Commonwealth the boost it needs,” says Lord Marland, chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), which is leading the CHOGM business forum ahead of the formal heads of government meeting.

The week-long summit, starting on Monday, is expected to attract around 5,000 participants from government, business, and civil society under the theme of “Towards a Common Future”. Meetings begin with three days of forums -- covering youth, women, business and civil society -- and culminate with the official retreat for leaders at Windsor Castle on Friday.

Modi arrives in the UK on Tuesday night and will embark upon a packed day of bilateral meetings on Wednesday before a CHOGM dinner hosted by British Prime Minister Theresa May at Sky Garden in London on Wednesday night.

The executive session of day-long CHOGM deliberations between the 53 heads of government in London on April 19 will culminate in a gala dinner hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in the evening.

First Published: Apr 15, 2018 14:12 IST