Commonwealth links and a wealth of knowledge

A distinguishing feature of the Commonwealth is that it not just a network of governments, but a family of interconnected networks.

Commonwealth links and a wealth of knowledge File photo

(By: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon)

The Commonwealth of Nations is a unique association of 54 free and equal member states, including India and the UK. It represents a network of over 2.4 billion people spanning six continents, a third of the World Trade Organisation, a quarter of the G20, and a fifth of all global trade. We may not always agree, but we always start from a position of strength – thanks to our intertwined history, shared values, common language, and similar legal systems.

At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in 2018, member states jointly committed to make our world more fair, secure, sustainable, and prosperous. Organised in London, it was the largest summit of its kind in UK history with participation from 46 world leaders, including Prime Minister Modi. The UK is committed to realising the full potential of this association and pledged £500m in support.

I cannot emphasise enough the vital role India has to play in realising these ambitions.  It is the world’s largest democracy, 5th largest economy, and home to 60% of the Commonwealth’s population. It will also host the G20 in 2022. India is already providing impressive support to the 32 ‘small states’ – those member states that are particularly vulnerable to external shocks as a result of their geographic positioning, inherent structural challenges, and deep integration into the global economy.  India is at the forefront of furthering South-South development with Prime Minister Modi’s commitment at the London CHOGM to double India’s contribution to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.

The Commonwealth is a natural constituency for India. It gives India the appropriate platform to shape global debate, gives small states a voice at major international fora, and to share its expertise and know-how more widely. I’m delighted to note that Jadav Payeng from Assam, the ‘forest man of India’, has been awarded the 128th Commonwealth Points of Light Award for his work on environment conservation. One individual planting trees over decades to create an entire forest reserve is a powerful metaphor for what the UK and India can achieve together as a global force for good.

A distinguishing feature of the Commonwealth is that it not just a network of governments, but a family of interconnected networks. Architects, doctors, nurses, journalists, magistrates and judges are just some of the groups who have established a formal Commonwealth network. One example is the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, who under the leadership of Indian Supreme Court advocate Santhaan Krishnan brought together lawyers from across the Commonwealth, in Zambia, on the theme of: “The Rule of Law in Retreat? Challenges for the Modern Commonwealth.” At one session, Indian advocates shared their experience and learnings from the process that led to the Supreme Court ruled section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional.

Sport is a common thread that binds us together. The Commonwealth Cricket Camp, announced by PM Modi, and run at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru under the expert eye of legend Rahul Dravid last October, brought together two vital elements of the Commonwealth, youth and cricket. I look forward to welcoming the Indian team to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, in 2022. The Games’ vision of building peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities globally through Sport encapsulates the values of the modern Commonwealth. I am also very pleased that India will host Commonwealth shooting and archery events in Chandīgarh in January 2022, and that India is considering bidding to host the Commonwealth Games in 2026.

Having hosted the last CHOGM, the UK is Chair-in-Office until the next summit in Kigali this June. We are working with Commonwealth partners to tackle the great challenges of our time. One of these challenges is climate change. We know climate change will cause hardship, instability and conflict for the world. The most vulnerable will suffer first and hardest. This year, as co-hosts of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the UK will look to India once again. And it’s almost poetic that COP26 President, Alok Sharma, so perfectly encapsulates the UK-India ’living bridge’.

I, too, am a part of this living bridge that connects our nations – a true citizen of the Commonwealth. As Minister for the Commonwealth, I’ve the good fortune of navigating this unique network, seeing first-hand the close bonds we share, and to marvel at what we have achieved when we have come together.

I hope you will share my ambition, and that of our Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab of strengthening our incredible ties. In doing so, I wish all of the 54 member states of the Commonwealth family that span the globe a very happy Commonwealth day.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

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