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Does Tharoor's nomination shut India out of UNSC?

If Tharoor does indeed become the Secy-Gen, India's hopes of a permanent seat will be as good as dead, writes Mayank Chhaya.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 11:18 IST

The position of UN secretary-general and permanent membership of the Security Council are mutually exclusive objectives.

One is bound to come at the cost of the other. If Shashi Tharoor does indeed become the UN secretary-general, India's aspirations of permanent membership to the Security Council will be as good as dead.

This is notwithstanding Tharoor's own assertion that his candidacy will not adversely affect the prospects of India's permanent membership.

While India's star may be on the ascendancy internationally because of the impressive economic gains it has made in recent times, it has not risen so much as to win for New Delhi the unprecedented twin distinctions.

The world community has not become so considerate and fair overnight as to gift positions of such obvious global consequence to one country - that too a country that has a stellar track record of fierce independence of thought in world affairs.

No matter what is being currently argued, in choosing to formally back Tharoor's candidacy, New Delhi has effectively shut itself out of the Security Council in the foreseeable future.

Unless of course, one is seriously underestimating the powers of persuasiveness of Indian diplomacy in accomplishing objectives no country has managed to accomplish so far.

Contrary to popular wisdom, it is quite conceivable that the US would view Tharoor's candidacy as the most attractive way of keeping India out of the Security Council.

There may not be any clearly articulated linkages between offering India an extraordinary civil nuclear energy deal and blocking its permanent membership, but international diplomacy, especially of the kind that Washington practices, is always about trade-offs.

To expect that New Delhi would get a remarkable nuclear deal, UN secretary-generalship and even permanent membership to the Security Council, all at the same time or even in quick succession, is nothing short of delusional.

It is true that in the scheme of things, Tharoor is the best-qualified candidate. He is an erudite, scholarly and suave UN bureaucrat who is probably waiting to break out of the straitjacket that comes with being an underling.

Standing by the side of the incumbent Kofi Annan, it ought to have crossed Tharoor's agile mind frequently - what if it was he and not Annan in that position. All these are great attributes.

But the position he is seeking is much more than about personal attributes. It is about winning solid majority support among 15 members of the Security Council and also not prompt the veto from the five permanent members of the council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia. Tharoor himself has candidly admitted that one cannot "antagonise" P-5 and yet expect to win the coveted position.

It will not be surprising if the State Department already sees a great opportunity in Tharoor's nomination.

"Our administration has not yet made a decision on whom we will support to succeed Secretary General Kofi Annan.

But we certainly hold Shashi Tharoor in greatest regard and I look forward to meeting him in my office," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has been quoted as saying.

The comment, while tactfully non-committal, is indicative of how President George W Bush might treat Tharoor's nomination when the race comes right down to the rope.

It is by no means clear at this stage of the game how P-5 would view Tharoor's candidacy.

There have been some reports that France may already be disinclined to go with New Delhi's choice.

China, notwithstanding the current bonhomie with India in their "friendship year", would find it extremely trying to throw its weight behind. In fact, Beijing might reject it altogether. That leaves Russia, Britain and the US.

Russia, somewhat like China, would be on a weak ground to propose its own candidate because of the obvious difficulties in their political system and human rights situation. But would that lead Moscow to support Tharoor?

It is hard to speculate unless of course Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is reported to have personally steered the nomination, goes out on a limb to lobby for Tharoor with important world capitals.

On paper - and in some sense even on the ground - Tharoor is a strong contender but on him also rides India's aspirations to be a permanent member of the Security Council.

That may be too much weight to carry even for a seasoned international diplomat.

(Mayank Chhaya is a Chicago-based commentator.)