London, Apr 20: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in the United Kingdom, on Friday (April 20) joined other heads of government for the leaders' retreat at Windsor Castle, which will conclude the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The closed-door meetings comprise the informal segment of CHOGM, where the leaders meet without any pre-set agenda and without the presence of their close aides.
"At the retreat – unique to the Commonwealth – heads meet privately to discuss collaboration on global and Commonwealth priorities. They will also consider reform and renewal of the Commonwealth," a Commonwealth statement said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will be absent from the group of 53 heads of government as he had to rush back to Cape Town after violent clashed broke out in the country. The issue of succession is expected to be the dominant at the retreat at the grand Waterloo Chamber of the Castle, one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II – the Head of the Commonwealth.
She expressed her "sincere wish" that her son and heir Prince Charles step into her shoes in her opening address for CHOGM yesterday and a general consensus seems to be building around the 69-year-old royal.
"India has no objection to Prince Charles as the next Head because he has worked hard for the institution. However, we are also clear that there should be no institutionalisation of the post," a senior Indian official said.
The 91-year-old monarch, who has ruled out long-haul travel, is unlikely to attend any future Commonwealth summits in far flung member-countries and is keen to pass on the baton to the 69-year-old Prince of Wales.
"It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations – and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales will carry on the important work started by my father (King George VI) in 1949," she said in her speech at Buckingham Palace.
The Commonwealth is one of the world's oldest political association of states, with its roots in the British Empire when some countries were ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. Independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined The Commonwealth over the years, with the last two members to join – Rwanda and Mozambique – having no historical ties to the Empire.
Some experts have argued that the end of the Queen's term as Head of the organisation is an opportunity for the non-hereditary post to be passed on to a non-royal in order to distance the group from its colonial past. Others, however, claim that it is the royal family that holds the grouping together.
"It is to the incredible credit of the Queen and the royal family that it [Commonwealth] still exists, because without them it wouldn’t," claims Lord Marland, chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), the business arm of the institution.
The decision on a new Head will be up to the presidents and prime ministers representing the 53 member-countries as they gather for the retreat and, if there is an agreement, it will then be formally announced by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. However, the leaders may not be able to arrive at a decision on the matter today, in which case it will roll over to the next CHOGM.
The retreat will mark an end to the week-long summit in Britain, which started on Monday with forums on the theme of business, women, youth and civil society. The formal executive session of the heads of government meeting, themed around "Towards a Common Future', concluded last evening.
Prime Minister Modi addressed the second plenary of the executive session, during which he reiterated India's focus on small island developing nations of the organisation and delivering "demand-driven, rather than donor-driven" assistance to the organisation’s smaller member states.
"The overall objective of the Prime Minister's participation at this CHOGM in 2018 signals our stepped up engagement with the Commonwealth. It conveys India's desire to see Commonwealth increase focus on developing country priorities," an MEA spokesperson said.
At the end of the retreat today, leaders will issue their joint communique and a leaders' statement. CHOGM takes place every two years in different Commonwealth countries, with the next host country also to be announced at the end of this summit. Modi is scheduled to fly out to Germany at the end of the retreat for a brief bilateral meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin before he leaves for India. The meeting was added to the PM’s Europe schedule, which included Sweden and the UK, on the request of the German Chancellor, officials said.