Britain seeks India’s leadership role in Commonwealth


New Delhi : Describing India as “a beacon of democracy”, Britain Tuesday pushed for a leadership role for India in reinvigorating the 54-nation Commonwealth that will hold the summit of its leaders in Perth (Australia) in October.

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“The UK sees India, as do other members of the Commonwealth, as a leader, exemplifying the principles that bring the Commonwealth together – freedom, democracy, good governance and the rule of law, free trade and human rights,” Lord David Howell, Britain’s Minister of State for Commonwealth, said at a lecture at the Indian Council for World Affairs, India’s premier think tank.

“With the largest electorate in the world of 700 million, again India stands out as a beacon for democracy across the network and I know that you are doing excellent work on election training and monitoring,” he said in a lecture entitled “The Future of the Commonwealth”.

“Indeed, perhaps India has more than most to gain from the Commonwealth. Not only is India the largest country in the organisation, it is the fourth largest contributor to programmes,” said Howell, who began his two-day visit to India Tuesday.

“India matters to the Commonwealth, and it is evident that the Commonwealth matters to India,” he said while alluding to India’s membership of key Commonwealth bodies.

He also sought India’s support for recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group that are aimed at strengthening the Commonwealth network, a key theme of the forthcoming summit in Perth.

Comprising just under a third (31 percent) of the global population, the Commonwealth, the 54-nation grouping of former British colonies, contains some of the world’s fastest growing economies with an annual intra-regional trade worth over $3 trillion.

Vice President Hamid Ansari will represent India at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth Oct 28.

The forthcoming CHOGM has “the potential to be a transformational one for the Commonwealth,” Howell said.

“We have a real opportunity to shape the Commonwealth network to react, engage and lead on the world stage, a stage on which the Indian Ocean, and all the states surrounding it are increasingly taking a central place,” he added.

Describing the Commonwealth as “an ideal platform for doing business, trade, investment and development,” Howell underlined that the grouping “provides its members with a network that can help us all deliver our foreign policy priorities.”

“We are stronger for this network, not least because the Commonwealth contains India,” he said while alluding to the shift of economic power and influence to the emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Howell is expected to meet Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur Wednesday and hold talks on a range of issues related to the Commonwealth.

The official theme for CHOGM 2011 is “Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience”. The summit meeting will seek to promote democracy, the rule of law and good governance across the world.

The leaders will discuss a host of pressing global issues, including the global financial situation, counter-terrorism and climate change.