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The Commonwealth


The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries. The member governments have shared goals of development, democracy and peace. The values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.

The 1949 London Declaration established existing framework. The Commonwealth is headed by Queen Elizabeth II. The Commonwealth now includes many nations from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific. There are 56 countries in the current membership. The foundation of membership is open, equitable voluntary cooperation.

The Prime Ministers’ Conference of 1949 accepted India as a full member. India accepted the king “as the symbol of the free association of independent member nations, and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.”13 The conference declaration made it clear that all members were “free and equal” while “co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.”

The Charter of the Commonwealth

The Charter sets out the values of the Commonwealth nations. The Charter was formulated in 2012 and was officially signed by Queen Elizabeth II at Marlborough House, London, on Commonwealth Day, 11 March 2013.

The core values and principles of the Commonwealth as declared by the Charter are:

  • Democracy

  • Human rights

  • International peace and security

  • Tolerance, respect and understanding

  • Freedom of Expression

  • Separation of Powers

  • Rule of Law

  • Good Governance

  • Sustainable Development

  • Protecting the Environment

  • Access to Health, Education, Food and Shelter

  • Gender Equality

  • Importance of Young People in the Commonwealth

  • Recognition of the Needs of Small States

  • Recognition of the Needs of Vulnerable States

  • The Role of Civil Society

It’s Significance for India

Scholars have described the Commonwealth's role in Indian foreign policy as a "cornerstone" in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a "useful embellishment" in the 1970s and 1980s, and "no more than a child consigned to [an] orphanage" in recent decades. The Commonwealth's relative importance has shifted in response to Indian foreign policy priorities and the extent to which its activities have aligned with the organisation’s priorities.

The Commonwealth stands out as a dependable platform where India can strengthen, renew, and redefine ties with the other group members in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. It is the oldest institution that gave India a perspective on the outside world decades before it gained independence.

Following its independence, the Commonwealth has acted in India's best interests in a number of ways: by upholding friendly ties with the former colonial power and other Western bloc nations; by fostering trade ties and providing economic assistance to newly admitted African nations and small island nations; and by showcasing its diplomatic and planning prowess by hosting the Commonwealth Summit and the Commonwealth Games.

It facilitates consultations on a wide range of issues in a cordial and informal setting. These include international peace and security; democracy, the rule of law, and good governance; the environment and sustainable development; debt management and multilateral trade; education and youth affairs; gender equality, human rights, and healthcare services; information and communication technology; and issues pertaining to small states.

India joined the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in 1995. It continues to be a member of this organisation. The group's purpose is to monitor the stability of recently democratised members and take action if an elected government is illegally removed from power.


India's main challenge and opportunity in the Commonwealth is to demonstrate its leadership abilities. After all, India is home to 60% of the Commonwealth's population (and a significant number of people of Indian descent live in other member states), and India accounts for one-quarter of intra-Commonwealth trade. As a result, India is the most obvious member to spearhead a revitalization process in order to serve not only its own interests but also the interests of other countries that want the Commonwealth to emerge as one of many poles in a nonhegemonic regional and global order.

Former Foreign Secretary Krishnan Srinivasan once argued that India should invest more in the Commonwealth because "above all, when India speaks, everyone listens," unlike in other international groups. It can demonstrate its collegial and consultative leadership style by piloting and participating in a collaborative effort to reinvent the Commonwealth for the twenty-first century.

From a political and strategic standpoint, a stronger Asia-Pacific orientation to the Commonwealth could help India balance China. The Commonwealth could provide a distinct, viable platform for Asian and South Pacific countries to collaborate on security and economic issues. The advantage of forging such a subgrouping is that it would not include the United States, whose presence may otherwise send alarm bells ringing in Beijing.Nonetheless, it offers a lot in terms of advancing meaningful cooperation in counterterrorism, maritime security, and combating organised crime and money laundering—all of which are critical to India's future security needs.


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