In a major boost to India’s international standing, Dalveer Bhandari was elected to the last remaining seat on the International Court of Justice on Monday, after Britain withdrew Christopher Greenwood’s candidacy.
Bhandari is an accomplished jurist and had served on the Supreme Court of India before joining the ICJ. At the Supreme Court, he delivered judgments on comparative law, public interest litigations, constitutional law, criminal law, etc. At the ICJ, he adjudicated matters involving maritime disputes, whaling in Antarctica, genocide crimes, nuclear disarmament, terror financing, etc.
And yet, when he was re-elected, the victory was termed “diplomatic”.
BJP president Amit Shah described Bhandari’s re-election as a “huge diplomatic win” and applauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Shah said the win is a reflection of a “strong and decisive” leadership. Swaraj, while congratulating Bhandari, made sure that she mentioned India’s Permanent Representative in the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, while also hailing her ministry’s team.
Rosa Freedman in The Conversation recognised the importance of politics in the election. “It was politics, not candidate suitability, that determined this recent election,” she wrote.
Detailing how the permanent members of the Security Council have extraordinary influence over the functioning of the UN, she pointed out that an American usually heads the Department of Political Affairs, a French national traditionally leads peacekeeping operations, etc.
Thus, while the permanent members are able to keep their powers by vetoing changes, reforms are taking place in other ways, including elections, according to Freedman. In this context, it’s likely that the ICJ election was only the first of many challenges to their de facto powers that the permanent members will face.
Furthermore, the report added, apart for France and Germany, the US also told its mission that it was facing loss of face due to the increasing support for Bhandari.Further, the UK also lost support from the likes of France and Germany due to resentment over Brexit.
India went all in to ensure Bhandari’s re-election
It’s clear that diplomacy played an extremely important role in Bhandari’s election. PTI reported that intense efforts were made since June when India announced Bhandari’s candidature for the ICJ, and support was sought from nearly 175 nations, which ultimately culminated in his re-election.
According to officials, Swaraj directly spoke with her counterparts from nearly 60 countries to push Bhandari’s case. In the run up to the re-election, India ran an intense campaign in favour of Bhandari. It raised the issue at every possible meeting at various levels, an official said.
Even at the highest level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself raised the issue during meetings with world leaders.
Apart from Swaraj and ministers of state in the external affairs ministry, MJ Akbar and VK Singh, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and three secretaries in the ministry were also involved in canvassing votes, according to Hindustan Times.
An official monitoring the situation in New Delhi told Hindustan Times that India had to work extra hard, as “defeating the UK in the UN Security Council is not possible because each permanent member usually supports the other”. Instead, New Delhi worked on getting the numbers in the General Assembly.
The Indian Express detailed how after the first round of voting on 10 December, India started building on Bhandari’s 115-76 lead. A messaging group on an encrypted messaging app was created with the the foreign secretary, secretaries in the external affairs ministry, and the permanent representative at the UN. The group was used for real-time coordination and to exchange information without depending on coded and ciphered messages.
India also benefited from the time-difference between New York and New Delhi, said the report. One of India’s diplomats in New York was quoted as saying in The Indian Express report: “While we were sleeping in New York, New Delhi was working the phones…. When we woke up, we had to reconfirm the assurances given in New Delhi to South Block officials with the country’s envoys in New York. So, while New Delhi slept, we were working, and then reporting the feedback.”
India’s efforts worked, as after Bhandari secured 121 out of 193 votes in the General Assembly, and the UK withdrew its candidate, securing Bhandari’s election.
Win a sign of UK’s decline and India’s rise
Furthermore, former diplomat Jitendra Nath Misra pointed out that the UK is in decline and Indians know it. On the same day as Greenwood was defeated, London also lost the right to host the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam, and the European Banking Authority to Paris.
“In backing down, Britain took the pragmatic, if painful, step of adjusting to a changing world, and a new India,” he wrote. “India’s rise to the international high table too was a factor in Bhandari’s election. The resilience of its democracy, its economic growth and its soft power attributes make India an attractive model for state engineering.”
Further, while UK still has the great power of the veto, Bhandari’s election shows the ever shifting sands of diplomacy at the UN.