How India’s 3-way plan led to Dalveer Bhandari’s win at the ICJ
Early on Tuesday, minutes before the UN was to vote on the election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at 1.30am, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was joined by one of her junior ministers, MJ Akbar, foreign secretary S Jaishankar, and a few senior officials from the ministry at her residence to watch the proceedings on television.
Minutes later, United Kingdom’s candidate Christopher Greenwood withdrew, and the group watched a dream result unfold: With 15 votes in the UN security council (UNSC) and 183 votes —10 countries abstained — in the UN general assembly (UNGA), India’s candidate justice Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the ICJ.
A jubilant Swaraj, who made around 60 phone calls to her counterparts over the past two weeks, thanked her officials “for all the hard work they had put in” soon after the results were flashed.
Her jubilation was understandable: It isn’t everyday a veto-wielding permanent member of the security council gets outvoted.
Officials familiar with New Delhi’s diplomatic efforts say India reached out to 176 countries over the past three months in different ways, including meetings Swaraj had on the sidelines of the general assembly in New York in September.
“It was sort of a triangulation. We canvassed a country’s vote in three ways. We met the resident ambassadors in Delhi; our envoys campaigned for Justice Bhandari in the national capitals and posts in which they are posted; and our permanent representative in UN met his counterparts from other countries,” explained an official, who was closing watching the developments in Delhi.
“It was of course very tough to predict exactly which way each country would vote. Whenever we had doubts, we did more — through phone calls, meetings, even both,” said another official.
Apart from Swaraj, two ministers of state in the external affairs ministry, Akbar and VK Singh, Jaishankar and three secretaries in the ministry travelled to canvass votes.
Akbar, for instance, went to countries such as Egypt and Senegal, who are non-permanent member of the security council.
“After the November 9 round, we knew we had a definite chance as we were way ahead in the United Nations general assembly votes. But we had to work extra hard as defeating the UK in the UN security council is not possible because each permanent member usually supports the other,” said the official who was monitoring the situation in Delhi.
New Delhi decided to focus on ensuring a superlative performance in the general assembly.
Swaraj worked the phones. The official in Delhi recalls the minister’s instruction to get her connected to her counterparts whenever she had a moment to spare.
After 11 rounds of voting, when Bhandari secured 121 votes — close to 2/3rd of UN General Assembly’s 193 votes — India smelt a certain victory.
“It was never that a candidate who won the 2/3rd majority in the UN general assembly not got elected to the ICJ. That was what we wanted to happen and we could reach there,” said Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent representative to the UN.
Greenwood had the lead in the security council, though.
However, minutes before the crucial vote to break the deadlock in the general assembly and the security council, the UK withdrew, perhaps influenced by India’s strong showing in the UNGA in the 11th round.
On Tuesday evening, when Jaishankar met his senior officials, he had a special word of thanks for all of them for their “special and tireless efforts”.