An Indian diplomat posted at the United Nations told his American counterpart that New Delhi had given him the authority to override Indian Permanent Representative Nirupam Sen's perceived anti-U.S. decisions.

Over lunch with the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro D. Wolff, the Indian Deputy Permanent Representative, Ajai Malhotra, criticised Mr. Sen for taking a confrontational approach to the U.S. government, according to a U.S. Embassy cable.

Accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, the cable (64794: confnoforn) sent on May 19, 2006 by Mr. Wolff reports that Mr. Malhotra criticised Mr. Sen for taking a confrontational approach to the U.S. government.

Not just that. Mr. Malhotra indicated he had been sent specially to counter the Permanent Representative. He told the U.S diplomat that he had — and would use — a “direct line” to New Delhi to ensure U.S.-India co-operation in New York.

Mr. Malhotra made particular reference to the selection process of the Secretary-General. A debate was raging on the process, and the Indian deputy said India would “prefer” a consensus General Assembly resolution on this issue.

India had made a strong and vocal push for reforming the process, arguing that the UN Security Council present to the General Assembly three nominees instead of the usual one. The proposal was eventually unanimously opposed by the Security Council and was rejected by others for its potential to split the members and weaken the next Secretary-General.

But before that, discussions had gone on through April. The Non-Aligned Movement group took the formal position that the next Secretary-General should be chosen from the Asian region.

In May, NAM delegations at the UN met to discuss the Indian proposal for the selection process and prepared some elements of a draft resolution on this issue, the most important of which was that the Security Council would “proffer two or more” well qualified candidates for consideration by the General Assembly.

Offer to help

Amid the tension building up at the UN headquarters, this is how Mr. Malhotra offered to be of assistance to the U.S: “If it appeared that the resolution would garner support only from Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) delegations, Malhotra pledged that India would oppose pursuing it. If Indian PR Sen decides to forge ahead despite lack of consensus, the Indian DPR said he personally would obtain instructions from New Delhi overturning Sen's decision,” the cable added.

Mr. Malhotra claimed he had been sent to New York with instructions from Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to cooperate with the U.S. on the broad range of issues facing both countries at the UN.

The cable noted that “Indian PR Sen is notorious in New York for inveighing against Western powers, particularly the USG, that supposedly conspire to undermine the interests of the NAM.”

“While many other members of the delegation recognize that the U.S.-India relationship has progressed considerably since the days of the Cold War, Sen's views often make working with the Indian Mission quite challenging. Malhotra's comments suggest he may have been instructed to check his boss's antiquated instincts.”

‘Anachronistic' Sen

Another cable, sent on June 21, 2006 (68952: confnoforn), spoke of the divergences between New Delhi and New York being corroborated by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and described Mr. Sen's statements as “anachronistic” at a time when the U.S. administration was making efforts to achieve a “historic nuclear deal” with India.

But not all U.S. diplomats had the same antipathy for Mr. Sen.

His UN posting came immediately after a term as High Commissioner in Sri Lanka. In an indication that diplomacy is all about common interests, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka at the time, E. Ashley Wills, cabled from Colombo on February 2003 a list of all the points that “Sen and I” agreed on about the peace process with the LTTE (5463: confidential).

Their one hour meeting on February 3 seems to have gone exceedingly well. Their agreement on almost everything was “surreal”, the Ambassador noted. There seems to have been only one point on which the two did not see eye to eye: “Where Sen and I disagreed concerned the [Sri Lankan] economy.” The Indian envoy's prescription for the Ranil Wickremesinghe government was to abandon free market reforms, and pursue poverty alleviation and “populist measures” to curb the rise in the cost of living and unemployment. This would deprive the JVP and President Chandrika Kumaratunga of “convenient pretexts” to attack the government, Mr. Sen had argued, leaving Mr. Wickremesinghe to pursue the peace process undistracted.

Mr. Wills wrote that he shared his Indian counterpart's concern “but not his remedy”. He commented: “Sen is an old-school, Nehruvian Indian diplomat, a Bengali leftist for whom anti-Americanism must be instinctive. But his country has changed and so too has his own attitude. We were so much in accord that it was a little surreal.

“But it is in any case welcome that we and India assess Sri Lanka the same. In the weeks coming, I hope we can come to terms with the GOI concerning how we can jointly or, more likely, separately exert constructive influence on the parties involved in the Sri Lankan peace attempt.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks)