The Commonwealth owes its origin to erstwhile British Empire. Before 1947, the ‘British Commonwealth’ consisted of Britain and the dominion governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
After independence, in order to facilitate India’s continued membership with the Commonwealth, it was decided to drop the prefix ‘British’ before Commonwealth. India thus, joined the Commonwealth as a Republic. Independent India’s decision to become a member of the Commonwealth was on of the major foreign policy decision of the Country.
Unity amidst diversity is the hallmark of the contemporary commonwealth which has a membership of 54 countries belonging to six continents 11th March is celebrated as the Commonwealth Day.
To start with, Commonwealth didn’t have a charter or a constitution. What provided a cohesive bonding to the member countries is the common historical past, shared legacy and commitment to basic principles of democracy and Parliamentary polity which over the years, have crystallized into certain “Declarations”.
In the international arena, Commonwealth has been playing a very significant role in various fields. It had been a bull work against apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa. A number of Declaration had been issued on this question. Commonwealth’s sustained fight against apartheid ultimately ended the abhorrent practice of apartheid in South Africa. In this fight against apartheid, India’s active support and involvement will always be remembered.
Another issue which had been pursued by the Commonwealth is disarmament. at the New Delhi submit of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1983, a separate document called the ‘Gua Declaration on International Security’ was adopted. The Declaration pledged that the Commonwealth would make a political contribution in encouraging the two superpowers (which included the erstwhile Soviet Union) to promote international security and understanding. The Gua Declaration was alter reiterated by the Nassau Declaration on world order which was adopted in the Bahamas in 1985 on the occasion of the United Nation 40th Anniversary.
The Commonwealth’s contribution for establishment of a New International Economic Order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor is also significant.
In the present day world, the Commonwealth has focused its attention on issues like ‘Good governance’, protection and promotion of human rights, free and fair elections, and greater economic cooperation among the member countries. Commonwealth had also established the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) in 1971 to provide expertise, training and consultancy services to the member countries.
The Commonwealth has thus great resilience to respond and address to emergent issues afflicting the world.