Missing in Action: India must take Commonwealth driving seat

Missing in Action: India must take Commonwealth driving seat
Missing in Action: India must take Commonwealth driving seat

As the debate around Britain's membership of the European Union (EU) enters its final few weeks before the June 23 referendum, our expert columnist flags up the reasons why India must take on a more decisive leadership role of another important collective - the Commonwealth. As Britain approaches the Brexit vote, some debate has sought to posit the United Kingdom's affiliation with the European Union against its leadership and membership of the Commonwealth. From politicians to populists to even the cricketer Ian Botham, there have been arguments that the UK is better served entering into trade and investment partnerships with countries of the Commonwealth, and moving out of the EU. Where does India, a leading member of the Commonwealth, stand on this The foreign policy establishment in Delhi sees little potential in the Commonwealth and would prefer the predictability and certainty of the UK staying on in the EU. It would want to continue to use the UK and London as India's window to the EU, rather than deal with two separate and distinct entities. Having said that, it is not as if India is ready to junk the Commonwealth. Far from it, many Indian analysts have called for a reinvention of the 53-member group to make it compatible with 21st century goals. A cross-continental collective of such a nature, united by the English language, democracy (more or less) and similar legal systems, can achieve much more than it currently is. For this, India's leadership of the Commonwealth is critical. Along with South Africa, it represents the largest Asian and African countries in the group. The three others at the high table, the UK, Australia and Canada, represent the older “white countries”, though of course all three by themselves are immensely multicultural today in so small measure due to intra-Commonwealth migration. All of these five countries, as well as rich Commonwealth members such as Singapore, have multiple boats to use. The Commonwealth is only one of many multilateral bodies they are members of, and in terms of economic or strategic importance not the most critical. Having said that, it is the African and Pacific Islander members of the Commonwealth who take the club most seriously. For some of these countries, the Commonwealth is the only platform that puts them at par with societies and economies that are much larger and have a global footprint. These are also geographies where China is making inroads, and where India has sought to resort to a more energetic diplomacy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How does India's Commonwealth legacy fit in here That question can be answered in several ways. For a start, in terms of HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) preparedness, many countries of the Commonwealth are doing a lot individually. India, Australia, the UK and Canada, among others, are building capacities in other nations. Is it time for a collective Commonwealth endeavour, to help group members at risk but with limited capacities The project can be expanded to the larger mission of development assistance, where India and the so-called “white group” often compete, India offering technologies and experiences that have worked in its own developmental programmes and say an Australia or a Britain offering usually more expensive options as well as finance to support these. There is an obvious complementarity here. For example, if Australian and Indian approaches can be aligned in wartime Afghanistan, why can't such purposefulness be institutionalised for developmental projects under a Commonwealth rubric through the year and across the diverse geography of the group There is also need to spin off a Commonwealth development bank or at least a financial institution that locates, identifies and supports, with assistance from partners outside the Commonwealth where necessary, infrastructure and economic projects and businesses in member countries. Tentative efforts have been made in this direction, but gradualism has to be replaced by a quantum jump if the Commonwealth wants to be taken seriously as a 21st century business association. At the very least, this proposed Commonwealth financial and business institution should be headquartered in Delhi. This will give India a stake in the Commonwealth's future. Indeed, it may even give the Commonwealth a future.

Ashok Malik, Senior Columnist

No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
India Global Business
www.indiaglobalbusiness.com