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We are not in it together

Whether India should have contested for top UN post is a subject of considerable debate, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2006 05:19 IST

India has finally withdrawn, on the eve of a formal defeat, from the contest for the post of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Whether India should at all have entered the contest has been a subject of considerable debate. In the event, India had to withdraw once it became clear that the US, having voted ‘against’ on all previous occasions in the Security Council’s ‘straw voting’, may well exercise its veto. So much for the growing Indo-US strategic partnership! We shall return to this later.

The closest India has ever come to selecting a nominee for the post of UN Secretary-General was in the Fifties, when it was, like now, Asia’s turn. Though historical accounts differ, it is learnt that Vijayalaxmi Pandit was seriously considered for the post. However, India’s then Ambassador to the US, B.K. Nehru, in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Second, narrates how the US was willing to back his candidature. This, however, was sabotaged by then Defence Minister Krishna Menon. It is alleged that Menon wanted his own nominee, Arthur Lal, then India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, as India’s candidate.

Whatever be the merit of such reminiscences, there was good reasoning at the time that India should not field candidates for such positions. It is no mere coincidence that during the entire existence of the United Nations, neither the permanent members, nor other big players in international relations have ever fielded a candidate for the post of Secretary-General.

This was based on the reasoning that a Secretary-General from any such country would find it difficult to take a position contrary to that of his country on an international issue or dispute in which his country’s interest was involved. The very credibility of the United Nations would have been at stake under such circumstances. Even if the Secretary-General acted in all fairness, he would not have escaped allegations of bias. There is, thus, a strong conflict of interests that prevents major players from being in the contest for this post. It is believed that it was such reasoning that finally prevailed upon Jawaharlal Nehru to support Burma’s U. Thant.

India, indeed, is a major player in international affairs. We are destined to see this role strengthen in the years to come. India has led the Non-Aligned Movement and it has been the catalyst for grouping the countries of the South in the struggle for a more equitable world order. An emerging global economic power today, India can least afford to be in such a position with its attendant conflict of interests.

It is on the basis of such reasoning that many felt that India ought not to have entered the race at all. This has nothing to do with the impeccable credentials of Shashi Tharoor. It has everything to do with India’s justified claim to be a permanent member of the world body. It would have been untenable to sit at the high table and decide on the destinies of conflicting situations, in fact, of the world itself, with an Indian as chief executive of the world body.

Putting this behind, India must now redouble its effort to democratise the United Nations. India’s presence in the permanent member category cannot be sought in isolation from the larger agenda to reform the United Nations. India had, in fact, sponsored a resolution in the UN General Assembly seeking more powers for the General Assembly — the UN’s chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ. India had further argued correctly that the Security Council should be made more representative and effective if it is to satisfactorily perform the role mandated to it by its charter. India should earn its place as a permanent member on the basis of its championing of the rights and needs of the developing countries and not as part of any exclusive alliance with other countries or groupings, like we unsuccessfully tried during the NDA rule.

India’s erudite Permanent Representative to the UN, Nirupam Sen, while criticising the permanent five for hindering real reforms, told the UN General Assembly recently: “What some of the P-5 suffer from — a virtue they share with the Russian czars, the French bourbons and the English Stuarts — is a rejection of the present, an unwillingness to accept that institutions can be different.”

The major impediment for such reforms, reflecting present global realities, comes from the US itself. It, in fact, wishes to turn the world body into a mere supplant to its global hegemonic designs. It is amply clear that the US will permit only such reform that will further endorse its position as the world’s sole superpower. The US is the UN’s largest financial supporter. That it uses this position to bulldoze world bodies to toe its line was evident some years ago when it declined to pay its dues to the Unesco, virtually crippling its activities.

It is this American global strategy that also defines the contours of Indo-US relations and partnership. Those who nurture contrary illusions must temper their reasoning with present realities. For instance, at the recent meeting of the IMF at Singapore, the US used its virtual veto to ensure that the quota of its friends — Turkey, South Korea and Mexico — increased. India’s quota was slightly reduced as a result.

The failure of the US Senate to clear the Indo-US civil nuclear deal cannot be brushed aside on technicalities. The US administration was able to persuade its Congress on far more difficult and sensitive domestic issues, like interrogation techniques and surveillance (tapping telephones and electronic mail). It has, in fact, chosen not to do so on the Indo-US deal.

Closer home, despite the bonhomie generated by interested quarters over a growing Indo-US strategic partnership, the latter continues to support Pakistan. This is despite a British Ministry of Defence-sponsored study that has shown that Pakistan is both helping and fighting terrorists at the same time. Domestic investigations of the recent Mumbai blasts found evidence linking the serial bombings to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The Mumbai police has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of involvement in the attacks. The time for testing the joint mechanism on terror decided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf at Havana has arrived. If Pakistan is sincere, it shall have to carry forward that commitment. It must take action on the information provided by India. Mere bluster of statements disclaiming involvement will not do. Pakistan will have to tell the world, in the face of evidence, what it intends to do to fight terrorism.

More importantly, will the US exercise its influence on Pakistan? It appears unlikely, given the recent statements that accompanied Musharraf’s sales pitch for his memoirs in the US.

Therefore, while developing friendly relations with the US, India must temper this with the present reality. On three major initiatives — the Indo-US nuclear deal, the UN Secretary-General’s candidature and the joint mechanism with Pakistan — the US has clearly not been on India’s side.

Sitaram Yechury is Rajya Sabha MP and Member, CPI(M) Politburo