India’s diplomatic victory for Dalveer Bhandari was a cliffhanger but for India’s Envoy to the UN Syed Akbaruddin it was a personal challenge that he and his team took upon themselves despite knowing that they had a thin chance of succeeding.
The UN in New York works differently and elections are either based on conventions or a simple give or take, with Lebanon lobbying heavily they had decided to back the Lebanese candidate initially when it was uncertain that India will field a candidate.
The real story is that India had initially decided that it will not field a candidate, and the decision was discussed and agreed to however with the Kulbhushan Jadhav case being at the ICJ it was felt in the highest quarters in South Block that India must field a candidate.
South Block insiders say that initially, they considered some other names as Bhandari was considered a UPA nominee, but being a leading member of the judiciary and with his wide connections he was able to impress upon the powers that be in New Delhi that he should get another shot.
The decision was communicated to the Indian mission at the UN and Indian Envoy Syed Akbaruddin was told by the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar that they should win this contest for the country, and instantly the Envoy took it on.
The candidates vying for ICJ need at least 97 and at least eight from the UNSC, the votes for these elections are committed based on a principle of giving and take, and in this case, others were campaigning for far longer, India had only managed a foot in the door much later.
In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar led the charge, lobbying key members of the UNSC and flagging the importance of this victory for India. Parallely all Indian Envoys were told to lobby their host countries, every vote mattered and many promises were given and many encashed.
Since the middle of June Akbaruddin and his Deputy Tanmay Lal, and his team of diplomats were tasked to lobby groups within the UNGA they explained at length the need for India to have a judge at the ICJ, and that its nominee had not got the full term earlier and so it deserved a chance.
Some hands with prior UN connections were called in to lobby the fence sitters.
It was a delicate balance as earlier India had indicated its support for the Lebanese candidate Nawaf Salim who had been campaigning for the past two years and to convince some of his supporters to switch sides to India was a tough one. Besides even though domestically the Kulbhushan Jadhav case was a pressing argument, in the diplomatic negotiations in New York it had to be calibrated as Pakistan was lobbying the Islamic countries and especially the OIC member states that had pledged its support to Salim, who won from the Asian group.
In fact the script on the India UK faceoff happened there but what was remarkable was the manner in which India managed the diplomatic contours building pressure on the UK, that if it didn’t withdraw it will have to face the ignominy of a permanent member of the UNSC getting defeated, with India clearly enjoying the majority in the UNGA and also succeeding in dividing the UNSC to back the Indian candidate.
The big takeaways from this victory are much larger, first India’s is a major player in the international arena and has demonstrated through its support at the UNGA, second it is a good stepping stone for its UN Security Council bid as it also demonstrated that even against a permanent member it had 6 votes in the UNSC. The Indian candidate led in the 11 rounds in the UNGA, and eventually, the UK blinked, proving yet again that India’s power quotient is on a high in the global arena.