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‘India vs UK’ review: A victory for diplomacy

In his book, India vs UK, Syed Akbaruddin narrates the story of an unprecedented diplomatic win in 2017, complete with twists and turns, in the campaign for India’s candidature in the election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Written in first person, the narration flows like a story with anecdotes culled from his diary which he kept during his stint as India’s Permanent Representative to the UN from 2016-2020.

David and Goliath

The author describes the nail-biting finish in the elections with the contest narrowing down to two sitting judges — Dalveer Bhandari of India and Christopher Greenwood of the U.K. The ongoing Kulbhushan Jadhav trial at the ICJ added a sense of urgency for India. The ICJ election was sui generis in which the results were announced simultaneously in both the Security Council and General Assembly and stretched over several rounds. The U.K.’s significant global campaign was formidable given that it had an early lead of five permanent members in its kitty by virtue of being a member of the Security Council. In contrast, India was at a disadvantage of having fielded its candidate rather late.

The author’s research into past trends of ICJ elections reveals some interesting insights; that the real battleground is not the Security Council but the General Assembly and also that progress in subsequent rounds actually hold the key for a successful outcome. More than the candidate’s virtues of knowledge, a sustained campaign, left to diplomats to square off in a long period of toil, mattered the most.

Quiet work ethic

The author gives a glimpse into how the wheels of Indian diplomacy move worldwide to serve the national cause. Believing in quiet diplomacy focused on outcome rather than reward, the author meticulously built a versatile team that was committed to the cause with freedom to speak its mind.

As part of the campaign strategy, he reached out to his counterparts at a personal level; guided Indian missions abroad; and persuaded Headquarters to make appropriate interventions at the Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Ministerial level.

The author also gives a sense of the enormous logistics challenges that the mission faces during the Leaders’ Week at the UNGA in September. Countering false narratives on Kashmir, terrorism, the Doklam standoff, etc. were other imperatives for the mission during the campaign.

Often UN election uncertainties risk corroding one’s belief in the possibility of a win. At one time, there was talk of India sharing tenure with the U.K. as a possible way out. But India’s sustained campaign dramatically diminished support for the U.K. at the UNGA. The U.K.’s desperate attempts to set up a Joint Conference, under Article 12 (1) of the ICJ statute, to decide the outcome by a select group of countries, failed as it got exposed of stalling a democratic exercise of voting. The U.K.’s suggested compromises and negotiated outcomes were resisted in the firm belief that it was no longer an individual fight from which one could walk away, nor afford to lose.

As the author kept the faith and held on to his horses, the U.K. caved in and conceded. The win also reiterated the importance of India to the UN membership.

India vs UK; Syed Akbaruddin, HarperCollins, ₹599.

The reviewer is a serving Indian Foreign Service Officer, currently working in the Ministry of External Affairs.


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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 6:32:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/india-vs-uk-review-a-victory-for-diplomacy/article37451842.ece

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