Commonwealth Day is a celebration with a rich history of great significance woven from the tapestry of diverse cultures. It’s an annual celebration dedicated to the Commonwealth of Nations. It’s a day to honour shared values, the exquisite and diverse cultures of the member countries and humanity itself. 

As nations celebrate the 63rd Commonwealth Day, let’s delve deeply into the history of the Commonwealth, why it is celebrated, what it means to be a part of the Commonwealth, its relevance in modern-day society, the theme for this year, and the inevitable connection of India with the Commonwealth nations. 

What is the Commonwealth? 

With 2.5 billion people as members across 56 countries, which is one-third of the global population, the Commonwealth is one of the oldest intergovernmental political associations of states where the head of the Commonwealth of Nations is chosen by the Commonwealth members. 

The British monarch is considered as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth of Nations where the former head was Queen Elizabeth II. 

 Which are the Commonwealth Nations? 

The organisation consists of 56 member states across the globe from all the continents and they include Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Kingdom of Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia from Africa, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka from Asia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago from Caribbean and Americas, Cyprus, Malta and United Kingdom from Europe and Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu from Pacific. 

The member states comprise a diverse group, including developed and developing countries, large and small nations and all of them working on shared goals and functions like democracy, human rights, and sustainable development. 

Each year, on Commonwealth Day, the head of the commonwealth delivers a message addressing the citizens and highlights the pressing social issues faced by the society as a whole. 

What is the theme this year?

The theme of 2024 is “One Resilient Common Future: Transforming our Common Wealth”. The theme highlights the identification and development of the strengths of each country by utilising the unique network and the resources of the commonwealth for mutual benefit, fostering a connected and digital commonwealth. Along with this, the commonwealth serves as an invocation for the 56 member countries to work together to build resilience and tackle challenges like climate change, economic instability, and pandemics therefore paving the way for an exemplary future. 

History of Commonwealth

Tracing the history of the Commonwealth, the roots of the Commonwealth go back to the reign of the British Empire, when most of the countries were under the rule of Britain. Commonwealth Day, originally known as Empire Day, was commemorated on the day of Queen Victoria’s birthday to ensure unity between the colonies of Britain and to honour the British Empire. 

At the 1926 imperial conference, Britain and other dominions like Australia, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa agreed that they were all equal members of a community within the British Empire and showed their allegiance to the British king or queen, at the same time negating the rule of United Kingdom over them. It was initially called the British Commonwealth of Nations. 

The birth of the modern-day commonwealth was facilitated by the London Declaration which affirmed the legitimacy of the membership of the republics and other countries apart from the colonies of Britain, in the Commonwealth. 

The Commonwealth Day was originally celebrated on May 24th (Queen Victoria’s birthday) but due to decolonisation and other factors, it was later changed to the second Monday of March. From initially celebrated for paying tribute to the British empire, the focus later shifted towards a more inclusive celebration, canonizing the spectrum of cultures, shared values and histories of the member countries. 

However, certain countries like India, and Belize still celebrate Commonwealth Day on May 24th. 

What it means to be a part of the community?

Being a part of the Commonwealth community is a way to build partnerships, fostering a common future that benefits the whole world along with the member states. The Commonwealth acts as a medium to channel the grievances of its member states as well as a platform for mutual development and growth. The member states work together to address democracy, and human rights and to tackle the challenges encountered by them with unified aid and technical assistance and even by launching joint initiatives. The platform also grants access to a vast network of opportunities to nourish trade and commerce, cultural exchange, and educational programmes. 

India, the largest member state of the Commonwealth

India is the largest member state of the Commonwealth, with nearly 60% of the total population of the association. It is the fourth largest contributor to the Commonwealth budgets and programmes. India shares a broad history with the Commonwealth, as it was a former colony of Britain. 

India’s connection to the Commonwealth is marked by both historical ties and a desire to forge a new path. In 1949, India declared itself a republic, rejecting the British monarch as head of state, which meant leaving the Commonwealth. However, the declaration of the new model of the Commonwealth to include republic nations also enabled the re-joining of India to the community. This paved the way for other republics to join, owing to the birth of the modern-day Commonwealth. 

While the public celebration of Commonwealth Day might be limited, India remains a central member of the Commonwealth and the association has enacted as a framework to maintain positive ties with the former colonial partners and enhance the economic benefits. 

On a deeper level of understanding about Commonwealth Day and the organisation, its acceptability in India is still debatable. A stratum of society is sceptical of the potency and relevance of the Commonwealth. The major concerns that they raise are the power dynamics and favouritism that exist within such organisations and the inability of the Commonwealth to adapt to changes in the contemporary scenario. Amidst these uncertainties, the majority undoubtedly acknowledge and credit its worth considering it as a potential platform capable of bringing changes. 

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