INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: India ‘dethrones’ China – The delight and the dilemma of UN frontbenchers

Gorkhs Daju - all gloom & doom or just cautionary ?!!

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: India ‘dethrones’ China – The delight and the dilemma of UN frontbenchers – nothing to really gloat about, as the dice are gently loaded with the US efforts to woo India’s burgeoning and mouthwatering economy ?!!

Krishna (front row right) listens to Obama’s speech at the UN. (Photo by Jay Mandal on Assignment) - India bleating like an innocent lamb in a den of wolves ?!!



New York, Sept. 24: India has taken China’s place in the United Nations. Literally.

At the world’s most high-profile annual gathering of heads of state and government — the “general debate” in the UN General Assembly — India has got a front row seat for the first time.

Last year, that very seat, front-most seventh from the left, was occupied by China.

On the opening day of the general debate yesterday, addressed by President Barack Obama and a steady stream of Presidents and Prime Ministers, India’s seat was occupied by external affairs minister S.M. Krishna, the leader of the Indian delegation to the 65th General Assembly.

China has been relegated this year to a middle row, hitherto India’s lot at successive General Assemblies.

As Obama spoke yesterday, the third speaker at the general debate, television cameras beamed Krishna’s picture on screens across the world. That was because of the praise Obama heaped on India in his address.

But the Indians realised that occupying a front row seat at the UN was not an unmixed blessing. Yesterday, for instance, Krishna’s tightly packed schedule here had a bilateral meeting with the British foreign secretary, William Hague. The British sent word that they would like the meeting to begin precisely at the appointed time of 10.15am because of Hague’s own tight schedule.

But Obama was running late and, in fact, had to cede the fixed second spot among speakers on the opening day of the general debate to another country.

That meant Krishna would have had to get up and leave his front row seat precisely when Obama was making a speech in which he was praising India.

American and other TV stations worldwide which were carrying Obama’s speech live would have caught Krishna leaving the General Assembly hall: those who were paying only cursory attention to the content of Obama’s speech might even have mistakenly thought that the Indian minister was walking out because of references to India.

So, Indian officials sent word to Hague’s aides that the bilateral meeting would have to be postponed. Luckily, the British understood the predicament of a delegation occupying the front row at the UN.

The choice of the very first seat in the front row in the General Assembly hall is rotated annually by ballot. Whichever country is picked in a secret ballot gets to occupy the left-most seat in front and others follow in alphabetical order. This year, Guinea-Bissau won the slot and India comes seventh in UN membership in the alphabetical list after Guinea-Bissau.

Citing India’s experience to prove his point that democracy takes root in unique conditions characteristic of each country, Obama gave the world the first “official” glimpse in some detail of his trip next month to India and some other Asian countries.

“Later this fall, I will travel to Asia. And I will visit India, which peacefully threw off colonialism and established a thriving democracy of over a billion people…. There is no right more fundamental than the ability to choose your leaders and determine your destiny”, as India regularly does through its elections, the biggest exercise in the world in adult franchise.

But Obama also had a word of caution for those in Washington who want America to be the world’s policeman in spreading freedom and democracy across the globe. “Now, make no mistake: the ultimate success of democracy in the world won’t come because the United States dictates it. It will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed. There is no soil where this notion cannot take root, just as every democracy reflects the uniqueness of a nation.”

Those words represented a firm and final goodbye to his predecessor George W. Bush’s signature theme in his swearing-in address in 2005 after winning a second presidential term. Bush had dedicated his second term to the unrealistic theme of spreading democracy throughout the world, guided by Washington, “with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”.

In that speech, Bush had promised that “all who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors”, even as his administration was backing dictators like Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf.

“When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you,” Bush had proclaimed in hollow support to those who were fighting for democracy worldwide.

Obama signalled yesterday, citing India’s unique ways, that he had turned his back on yet another Bush pitfall.

American Presidents have in the past referred to India in their UN speeches, but they have been in the context of human rights in Kashmir or similarly unflattering terms. So Krishna and his delegation savoured Obama’s praise to the brim.

Krishna’s delegation to the General Assembly also realised yesterday that a front row seat brings with it attention to India which might otherwise have been ignored in the bustle of the proceedings.

It is a tradition at the UN that every year, the general debate begins with the General Assembly observing a minute’s silence. The practice was the result of an Indian proposal that was accepted by the UN in the 1960s.

But because of Krishna’s prominent seat in the General Assembly hall, several other ministers and ambassadors yesterday recalled the ownership of this gesture by New Delhi and thanked the Indian delegation in conversations for having instituted the practice.


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