London Apr 19: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today had a series of bilateral meetings, including discussions with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and Seychelles President Danny Faure on the sidelines of the multilateral Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
"Neighbourhood first! Connecting with a neighbour and a close friend, PM Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina had a productive exchange of views on various issues of bilateral interest on the sidelines of CHOGM 2018," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
This marked their first meeting since the Bangladeshi leader's visit to New Delhi last year and ahead of her proposed visit to India in the coming months.
Modi also met Seychelles President Faure and discussed cooperation in areas of trade and investment and other bilateral issues, he said.
The bilateral talks between Faure and Modi assumes significance after Seychelles ordered an inquiry into the leak of a highly classified agreement signed with India to develop infrastructure on Assumption Island, which lies southwest of the mainland of Mahe.
The opposition in Seychelles has decided not to ratify the pact because of Assumption's relative proximity to Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the world's largest population of giant tortoises.
Cementing close friendship with Mauritius, Modi met his Mauritius counterpart Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and talked about cooperation in trade and investment, maritime cooperation and people-to-people ties.
The "pull-aside meetings" with world leaders included an interaction with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Gambian President Adama Barrow, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Rick Houenipwela.
Modi also interacted with President of Kiribati Taneti Maamau, Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda Gaston Browne and Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Keith C Rowley.
Some of the other world leaders expected to have one-on-one deliberations with Modi during the summit include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness.
The bilateral talks are scheduled as the formal heads of government meeting gets underway in London today following the formal launch by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. "Over many years you have been the Commonwealth's most steadfast and fervent champion. You have been true to the deepest values of the Commonwealth?… we commit to sustaining this Commonwealth, which you have so carefully nurtured," British Prime Minister Theresa May said in reference to the Queen at her opening address.
The 91-year-old monarch, as the Head of the Commonwealth, will host a dinner for all 53 heads of government at the palace later in the evening today. "I had not been able to visit the last summit and this time, it was an honour that Prince Charles came personally to India last year to invite me to it. The Queen herself wrote a personal letter to me, a matter of great pride for India," Modi said during his Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath diaspora event in London yesterday. An Indian Prime Minister is attending CHOGM, held every two years, after a hiatus of nearly a decade, having skipped CHOGMs in Perth, Colombo and Malta since 2009. The Indian government has said that this symbolises the country's wider efforts to step up its role across global forums.
The executive session of the summit today will be followed by a retreat at Windsor Castle tomorrow when the leaders get together in an informal setting without any pre-set agenda or being accompanied by their top advisers.
As Britain takes over the two-year Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth at the heads of government deliberations, it marks the last such summit to be hosted by the Queen. With the monarch having ruled out long-haul travel, she is unlikely to travel to any future CHOGMs to be hosted by other member-states. This has triggered widespread speculation over whether her son and heir, Prince Charles, would be anointed as the next Head of the organisation.
As the position is not hereditary, a decision on succession is expected during the informal chats at the retreat. At the end of the retreat, Modi will head back to India after a brief stop for his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.