The whole essence of the calm, measured equanimity with which diplomatic gestures are made is that everyone can read different things into them. The same act can mean different things to different sectors of opinion, pressure groups, or clubs of nations. India has pulled off a rather subtle victory in managing to stay on the right side of everyone— except the most hardline opinion in Israel and US—by voting against having Jerusalem endorsed universally as the capital of the Jewish nation by the comity of nations. Indeed, US President Donald Trump’s idea, suddenly lobbed in the air, wholly lacked nuance in most eyes. And ultimately, it garnered only nine votes for it in the UN.
As many as 128 nations voted to condemn the unilateral US proposal, while 35 thought it better to abstain. India’s decision to stay with those who condemned it was read with much relief and appreciation in various quarters. Indeed, in Assam, perfume king Badruddin Ajmal, the new self-styled spokesman of Muslim interests, decided to announce his gratitude on behalf of the community (the issue having long been accepted to have a kind of symbolic importance in domestic politics).
That this went on to turn into a bit of a slanging match with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is another matter. The fact is that New Delhi had managed to drape its decision in the colours of independence-mindedness and fair play, while actually enlightened self-interest was never too far from the equation.
Not backing an ill-nuanced plan that was never a real American foreign policy objective, or even voiced universally from within Israel, was not going to deeply impact bilateral ties with either nation, which hinge on more proximate interests. On the other hand, India is deeply invested in Iran’s Chabahar port. And the thousands of crores being poured into Afghanistan are meant to bring some real soft power. So this was not just a ‘traditional’ vote but one in sync with realpolitik and India’s deep, long-term interests.