LONDON – As part of India’s diplomatic reach-out across the Commonwealth nations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday met a number of leaders of Commonwealth nations, including the Prime Ministers of Australia and Bangladesh, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here.
“Strength in similar values of democracy, pluralism and Commonwealth traditions!” Indian External Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted following Modi’s meeting with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.
Kumar said the two leaders discussed issues of bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
India and Australia, which is also home to a large Indian diaspora, are discussing a free trade agreement and are important defence partners.
The two countries, along with the US and Japan, are also part of the recently revived quad that seeks to work for the peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
According to Kumar, Modi, in his meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, “had a productive exchange of views on various issues of bilateral interest”.
“A lot of time was spent on governmental cooperation during the meeting with the Bangladesh Prime Minister,” Kumar said during a media briefing here.
“Mainly, the focus was on development cooperation.”
India is a leading development aid partner of Bangladesh and the eastern neighbour is important in India’s Neighbourhood First foreign policy.
Keeping with India’s increasing engagements with Africa, Modi met Gambian President Adama Barrow and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
He also met Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela and Kiribati President Taneti Maamau.
India has been increasingly reaching out to these Pacific island nations given their vulnerability in the face of climate change and their stakes in the blue economy.
Fiji is also home to a large number of people of Indian origin, who constitute around 37 per cent of the country’s total population of nearly 900,000. Most of them are descendants of indentured labour taken from India in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the sugarcane plantations there.
Among the Caribbean islands, Modi met the Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda Prime Ministers, Keith C. Rowley, Allen Chastanet and Gaston Browne respectively.
As India continues to engage with its extended neighbourhood, he met Seychelles President Danny Faure and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.
While Modi discussed cooperation in areas of trade and investment and other bilateral issues with Faure, the talks with Jugnauth were around in the areas of trade and investment, maritime cooperation and people-to-people ties, according to Kumar.
India sees both Mauritius and the Seychelles as important stakeholders in the blue economy and Modi has made official visits to both these countries.
Significantly, all these nations whose leaders Modi met are prospective members of the India-initiated International Solar Alliance (ISA).
Launched by Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the Paris climate summit in 2015, the ISA was conceived as a coalition of solar resource-rich countries to address their special energy needs and provide a platform to collaborate on dealing with the identified gaps through a common, agreed approach.
It is open to all 121 prospective member countries falling between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
Earlier on Thursday, Modi attended the opening ceremony of this year’s CHOGM, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to attend this biannual event since 2009.
Declaring the summit of the 53-nation Commonwealth open, Queen Elizabeth II proposed that her son Prince Charles should follow her and lead the organisation which her father, King George VI, founded after the end of the British Empire.
India, which is home to half of the 2.4 billion population of the Commonwealth, is expected to play a catalytic role in reinvigorating the organisation which had lost its relevance over the years in an increasingly multipolar world.