ISSN 2330-717X

Talking About India’s Diplomatic Preference – OpEd

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Demands for appointing the Ambassadors, instead of High Commissioners, in the 53 Commonwealth countries (so that the Union Government in New Delhi can pursue diplomatic relationships with these nations without any prejudice) are slowly gaining momentum. One can observe from the list of Ambassadors/High Commissioners of India in various Commonwealth countries across the world that there is no Indian Ambassador (but High Commissioners).

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The question that arises is why New Delhi is not interested to appoint Ambassadors in neighbouring Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka along with other Asian nations like Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. New Delhi is yet to appoint any Ambassador in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, etc reasons remain unknown to the people of India.

Similarly, India has only High Commissioners in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Canada, Dominica, Jamaica, Cyprus, Malta, United Kingdom, etc. Commonwealth of Nations (earlier British Commonwealth of Nations) is an association of sovereign countries comprising the United Kingdom along with its former dependencies who have chosen to maintain ties of friendship and practical cooperation, and who acknowledge the British monarch as symbolic head of their association. The  dependent but self-governing countries attained sovereignty and their autonomy was subjected to a British veto.

The 1926 Imperial Conference declared that such counties were to be regarded as autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as= members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

By the recognized definition, an ambassador serves as the primary means of confidential communication with other governments. In fact, the ambassador is the highest-ranking diplomatic representative of a particular country in another nation-state. The host country typically allows the ambassador control of a specific territory called an embassy, whose territory, staff, and vehicles are generally afforded diplomatic immunity in that country. Responsibilities of an ambassador, who is the head of an embassy, include primarily to protect the citizens of his/her home country in the host country.

When two nations make a deal, it is usually advantageous to both the countries to have ambassadors along with a group of staff. On the other hand, a high commissioner is the head of high commission and he/she is regarded as a senior diplomat in charge of the diplomatic mission in Commonwealth nations. The high commissioner normally keeps the interest of locals as well as their own citizens ahead.

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Commonwealth however differs from other international bodies like the United Nations, World Trade Organization, etc. It has no formal constitution or bylaws and hence the members have no legal or formal= obligation to one another, rather they are held together by shared= traditions, institutions, and experiences as well as by economic interest.

Commonwealth action is based upon consultation between members, which is conducted through correspondence and through conversations in meetings. Each member country sends an emissary, called a high commissioner, to the capitals of the other members.

Unlike India, Burma (Myanmar) rejected the Commonwealth  membership. Many other countries followed the same way. Ireland, South Africa and Pakistan initially rejected the membership, but later South Africa and Pakistan rejoined the forum. Commonwealth also comprises dependent territories, which are formally governed by the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand.

Days back, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) publicly opposed such a policy linked to the colonial legacy and it urged the Centre to appoint the diplomatic representatives according to the interest of billion-plus Indians only. The forum of nationalists in northeast India argued that as a sovereign nation there is no reason for India to follow the British legacy. It must establish its diplomatic independence, no matter what other Commonwealth countries would prefer to do.

There is an urgent need to revisit the existence of the Commonwealth in its present form. The organizational structure of the= Commonwealth has far outlived its usefulness and it should be transformed with an aim to cater the needs, aspirations and values of different democratic nations across the globe.

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Assam, Northeast India) based journalist

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