Britain’s expectation of roping India into the affairs of Commonwealth in a concrete manner, and thereby giving birth to “Empire 2.0”, does not look like materialising.
The commerce ministry has reportedly shot down a proposal to establish a Commonwealth Trade and Investment Centre in India. The current draft of the communique, to be issued at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London on April 19 and 20, makes no mention of such an institution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the summit, which will witness the presence of the highest number of government heads for a CHOGM ever, but will mark the absence of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The event is likely to be the last to be graced by Queen Elizabeth II, who will be 92 a day after the meeting ends.
According to a reliable Commonwealth insider, the proposal “has been scuppered by the commerce ministry, which was not consulted, and which is the sectoral ministry for trade and investment.”
“It (the commerce ministry) had not gone to the extent of contemplating an institution based in Delhi. Coordination between the ministries (MEA and commerce) was not done,” he added.
A senior Indian government source corroborated that the proposed centre does not figure in the draft communique. In effect, the commerce ministry has prevailed in a turf war with the ministry of external affairs. Its position is that the current bilateral arrangements are adequate and government involvement in an additional Commonwealth framework is unnecessary, and can be formed, if desired, by the private sector. This suggests that CII or FICCI could get involved.
The modern Commonwealth evolved in 1949 after the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru provided a formula that enabled sovereign republics, which India was about to become, to join the fold, opposed to having to be a colony or dominion of Britain. However, since the Commonwealth’s high noon in the 1980s, when it provided leadership to dismantling apartheid in South Africa, Indian interest in the organisation has waned. Indeed, Modi will be showing up at a CHOGM after India has been missing at the prime minister level in last three summits.
Of late, the Commonwealth secretariat has been ridden with controversy, with secretary-general Scotland coming in for criticism in the British press. Indeed, there is a widespread belief that while on paper this month’s CHOGM is a secretariat-hosted event, in practice it is being remote-controlled, if not overtly managed by the hosts, namely British authorities.
According to the insider, the British offered Prime Minister Modi “a senior position in the secretariat” for India. The 53-nation membership, which includes Pakistan, must by consensus, if not unanimity, approve the appointment. With Kamlesh Sharma as the last secretary-general, Kris Srinivasan as deputy secretary-general prior to him and an Indian director of economic affairs in place currently, the offer seems impractical.