Indian diplomacy will face a challenging two years when it assumes its non permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council next January. Though India has been a council member six times before, this will be the first time it is holding the seat since 1992. The world, and India, have changed radically since then.
India's performance will be studied by many, given its ambitions to obtain a permanent seat when, if ever, the council is expanded. It is not about what India will vote for. It is also about how effective India will be diplomatically.
India's voting record will be a matter of interest to the West. On a number of issues – such as sanctions against Iran and Myanmar, climate change, and international trade policies – India's position has been at variance with the United States and some European states.
But India's votes will also matter to another set of groupings – BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) – all of which will be testing their internal coherence. The coming council session will be notable for having all these countries represented: Brazil, South Africa, India as well as permanent members Russia and China. All three groupings now consult regularly on policy matters.
Another UN club is the Group of Four – India, Brazil, Germany and Japan – who have pooled their aspirations for permanent council seats. This group will have one agenda: revive the moribund UN reform programme.
Indian officials are confident. "We've been in the UN before during times when the geopolitical situation was far more difficult. We also see eye to eye with the US more than we have before," an official said. India's line on Iran is clear: opposition to Iran's nuclear programme but reservations about the use of sanctions. "There is no uniform Western view on Iran, or anything else for that matter," said an official.
Finally, India will seek to establish its credentials as a nation with diplomatic capacity. There is no better place to do so than the UN maze. What will matter to Washington, says South Asia hand and ex-US ambassador, Ashley Wills, "is not that India votes with the US but that India defends its positions well. Then its stature will increase."
New Delhi is conscious that when it joined the G-4 years ago, it saw itself as the weakest of the four. It now believes it is the strongest contender – and intends to keep itself in the lead position.