In the 1950s, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was accused of turning down a permanent seat for the country on the UN Security Council(UNSC) by both the US and Russia. However,this was strongly denied by Nehru in the Lok Sabha. The taint has not gone away entirely and the haunting memory of a ‘what if’ scenario looms every time India stakes its claim as a temporary member on the Security Council.
But after Afghanistan formally announced that it was withdrawing from the fray,sending a note verbale to the Asia-Pacific group chaired by Indonesia on Friday,India is now ready to announce its candidature as a non-permanent member on the UNSC for 2021-22, for which elections will be held in October 2020.
Interestingly, New Delhi’s move comes within a year of the country finishing its last term as a non-permanent member. And it is also a clear indication that the Centre has realised that it has to remain on the UN high table and that the country could ill-afford a repeat of the 19-year gap between its last two stints on the UNSC.
Simultaneously, India also informed the regional group chair and circulated among the members that it would be standing for the two-year term of 2021-22 as a non-permanent member. In fact, South Block had begun the process of identifying a suitable year to stand for a seat at the horseshoe table, about three-four months ago.
India had announced its candidature the last time, in 2006, giving it ample time of around four years to prepare for the polls. This time, the country has a leisurely period of seven years to drum up support for its campaign.
Actually, New Delhi has been angling for a clean slate election,which means that there will be no other candidate in the fray for the sole slot available for a member from the Asia-Pacific regional group.
For 2019-20, Maldives was in the running. It would have been a bit awkward to lean on Male to step down when it was facing political instability and the Presidency of Mohamed Waheed was essentially an interim administration. Further, India has already publicly backed the Indian Ocean archipelago’s candidature.
At the next slot in 2019 Vietnam, which was standing for the elections was not too keen to step aside, as it had its own aspirations to be part of the high table.
When India approached Afghanistan, it hit the jackpot. The response from Kabul was positive despite the fact that it would have marked its maiden entry into the UNSC. Naturally, this carries an IOU tag, but the exact nature of the quid pro quo is still to be revealed.
According to officials, India can’t afford to remain outside the UNSC when decisions are made, which directly affect issues of national interest. “We are among the top troop contributing countries. We need to be present to shape how the mandate is shaped,” said a senior official.
Perhaps much more than that, it is about “leverage”. “Being on the council, even as a non-permanent member gives immense diplomatic advantage,” he added.
As the time for the elections draws closer, if no other candidate crops up, the regional group may decide to give its endorsement. Last time round, India received endorsement from the then Asian group in February 2010, after Kazakhstan had withdrawn its membership. It received 187 votes out the 190 valid votes polled in the UN General Assembly.
Meanwhile, most of the lobbying will be done at the level of the country’s permanent representative in New York and through Indian missions across the world.