During the recent meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Perth, Australia, it was clear that when the elephant (India) is in the room, there is no room left for other countries in the world except for the dragon (China) and the eagle (the United Staes).
Last week, India managed to elbow other countries in the Commonwealth, the loose confederation of once British colonies, including its former master Britain and aspiring great powers in East Asia.
The Western member states, Australia, Britain and New Zealand, pushed for an institution that would monitor human rights in Commonwealth nations. The move was scuttled by India which stated bluntly that there is a multilateral institution for that purpose already called the United Nations and the Commonwealth should rather focus on developmental challenges.
India further criticized Western countries for maintaining double standards with regard to pursuing their lofty concepts of democracy and human rights. While they are more than willing to maintain the undemocratic status quo in the Middle East, where European and North American countries are allied with the Arab oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf, they’re critical of Fiji, the Maldives and Sri Lanka which are on the fringes of their geostrategic objectives.
If its posturing at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was any indication, India has graduated from being a regional power in South Asia to the status of great power in the Asia Pacific where it speaks on behalf of smaller nations. It tries to court these countries because it might one day need their support in attaining a permanent United Nations Security Council seat.
Moreover, India, a huge and fairly tolerant democracy itself, is reluctant to champion human rights abroad because its rival is having a free run in the global south scrambling for resources. It’s just a matter of time before India will join the race with China for neocolonialism or “spheres of influence” in developing countries so the last thing it wants to be seen as is a torchbearer of the declining and decadent West.
At the same time, there will continue to be a role for the Commonwealth in India’s diplomacy. As the country with the greatest number of English-speaking people in the world, it has lived up to the expectation that it might one day fill the void that was left by the dissolution of the British Empire.