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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

Tharoor's exit expected, but India's diplomatic botch-up avoidable

By R.C.Rajamani - Political Editor, Asian Tribune

India’s failed campaign to get its nominee Shashi Tharoor elected as the next UN Secretary General is a clear case of diplomatic botch-up. By all accounts, corroborated by seasoned former diplomats, the entire exercise resembled the spectacle of putting the cart before the horse. According to Janata Party Chief Subramanian Swamy, the decision to field Tharoor was a Himalayan blunder, while Parthasarthy views the entire sad episode as an international rebuff to India.According to Janata Party Chief Subramanian Swamy, the decision to field Tharoor was a Himalayan blunder, while Parthasarthy views the entire sad episode as an international rebuff to India.

It was an uphill task all the way for Tharoor who gamely put up a brave fight before finally withdrawing from the contest on October 3. It was clear from the start that both the US and China did not fancy India for the sensitive slot.

New Delhi may have lobbied hard at the recent NAM summit and elsewhere, but the election hinged on the support of P-5 - the permanent members the Security Council – Russia, Britain and France apart from US and China. Did India take these powers into confidence before fielding Tharoor? It did not. Coming amidst New Delhi’s aggressive campaign for a permanent seat in the Security Council as well as its vigorous push for reforms in the world body, the nomination of Tharoor was viewed both by friends and detractors as being “too ambitious”. Presently Under Secretary General of UN for Communications and Public Relations, the handsome, suave 56-year old Tharoor is a globally celebrated writer and author of critically acclaimed books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Several diplomats, both present and past had campaigned hard in world capitals. However, independent observers with sound knowledge of UN politics consistently rated Tharoor’s chances as "very slim," particularly because US and China were believed to have rejected India’s candidate in the first straw poll in July, an informal voting done to gauge the support enjoyed by the candidates among the UN member states. If any candidate is opposed by a Permanent Member of the Security Council, he automatically withdraws from the race. Tharoor came second in the second 'straw poll' behind South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon, who also topped the first. Tharoor finished second in the third and the final fourth straw poll.

Announcing his withdrawal from the contest, Tharoor said: "I should like to express my gratitude to the Government of India for having nominated me as its official candidate. Though I have never been an official of the Government, I consider it a great honour to have been the bearer of India's nomination, as well as of the hopes and aspirations of so many well-wishers in India and around the world."

According to G Parthasarathy, a seasoned diplomat who was India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan before retirement, the decision to field Tharoor was taken without any comprehensive survey of his chances either by the Prime Minister's Office, the External Affairs Ministry or the Permanent Mission to the UN. At the G-8 Summit, not even one leader endorsed Tharoor’s candidacy.

India entered the contest without getting the support of even a single member of the UN Security Council, not even the usually friendly and supportive Russia. Hamid Ansari, at one time India's Permanent Representative in UN, believes that the media had "hyped" Mr. Tharoor's candidature. According to Janata Party Chief Subramanian Swamy, the decision to field Tharoor was a Himalayan blunder, while Parthasarthy views the entire sad episode as an international rebuff to India.

However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was hopeful of Tharoor’s chances, says he is not disappointed considering that this was the first Indian challenge. He feels the future will have to reckon with the fact that India is ready to assume its rightful role in the management of international system.

Hopes for Tharoor flickered briefly after a British newspaper report, alleging that the South Korean probably misused Seoul’s money power to influence voting. In the event, the charges failed to stick. The whole episode is seen as India's lack of the requisite clout with the comity of nations. Informed sources insist that New Delhi will now have to redesign its strategy if it were to secure permanent membership of the Security Council.

Observers even believed, not without substance, that as India was not being given a permanent seat at UNSC, the United States might not be averse to seeing Tharoor as a Kofi Annan’s successor. But the hard fact was that even in the event of Washington saying "yes" to India’s nominee, Tharoor still would have China’s sure "no" to contend with – a development that would see his exit.

Though it would not be officially known as to who said "no" to India, speculation is that it was Washington. It may well have been a matter of tacit agreement between US and China on who should say "no". If it were not US, it would certainly be China, who for historic reasons would not like to see an Indian holding the post. It was natural and logical for Beijing to see Tharoor toeing New Delhi’s line on global issues where China may have different views.

- Asian Tribune -

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