India's election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council after a gap of 19 years shows how differently it is perceived by the world compared with 1996, the last time it contested and lost to Japan. Only 42 countries voted for India then. This time there were no other contenders for the Asia seat that Japan vacates at the end of December 2010 but the backing of 187 out of 192 countries for India's entry into the UNSC — only its seventh time since 1946 — speaks for itself. Getting the seat was only a small part of the challenge. The bigger trial lies ahead in the course of the two-year term, when India will be called upon to take positions on crucial global issues of war and peace. As a rising economic power that is seen as a strategic partner of the United States in Asia and routinely juxtaposed against China, India will be critically scrutinised for the stand it takes on the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sanctions and threats against Iran, the Darfur crisis in Sudan, and the Palestine question. Each is a test for the independence of Indian foreign policy. Even though the council is dominated by the P-5, New Delhi must ensure that it makes its voice heard without being seen as anyone's stooge.
For India, this is a timely break to push for the expansion of the UNSC and its own case for permanent membership. As Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna has pointed out, the P-5 are not at all enthusiastic about opening their club to others. But the present configuration of the Security Council should help in projecting the argument that the permanent membership needs to reflect the changed realities of the world. Of the Group of Four countries in the forefront of the campaign for U.N. reforms, Japan will soon serve out its term in the UNSC; Brazil was elected last year; and India will take its place alongside Germany. South Africa, a key player in the IBSA grouping of emerging economic powers along with India and Brazil, has been elected. Further, all four countries in BRIC — the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, and China — are now represented in the UNSC. Amidst these propitious circumstances, a note of caution needs to be sounded: having a burning problem in Kashmir ill serves New Delhi's aspirations of joining the international big league. The good augury is that Pakistan was among the countries that voted for India to take its place in the Security Council.