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4 December, 2017 10:32:53 AM


Judge Dalveer Bhandari in World Court

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, did his bit by focusing on the issue during his meetings with his counterparts the world over

India and Indians are rejoicing: not all of them but most. There are political barbs by way of the Congress party acting as spoiler but the Modi Government and the entire foreign ministry team led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has reasons to be happy and elated.

The bunch of officers steered by Swaraj have worked tirelessly to achieve what, at the beginning, seemed a near-impossiblity. They were after all taking on the cozy club an uphill task. Yet in the face of opposition, intrigue and manipulation India did not relent.
All heads and hands put together started work as early as June following India’s decision to propose Judge Dalveer Bhandari’s name for his re-election to the world court. India pushed for Bhandari as Judge for the International Court of Justice.
Foreign Minister Swaraj led from the front, picked up the phone as they say and directly spoke to her counterparts from as many as 60 countries from the 175 to push Bhandari’s case. It was a three pronged approach namely in   New Delhi, where foreign missions were contacted by the MEA; in various foreign capitals by Indian missions; and finally and most important by India’s permanent mission at the UN.
Prime Minster Narendra Modi, too, did his bit by focusing on the issue during his meetings with his counterparts the world over.
What perhaps clinched the issue in India’s favour was the  aggressive Indian campaign steered by  India's permanent representative to UN Syed Akbaruddin.  Not only did he stymie  UK’s proposal that a Joint Conference be formed to break the deadlock between GA and the Security Council but effectively used a key research to drive home the point of UK’s proposal of the Joint Conference mechanism.

The research showed that in 1978, 2011 and 2014, ICJ elections were held over more sessions, more meetings and more rounds of ballots than the six rounds in the present case between India’s Dalveer Bhandari and UK’s Christopher Greenwood. Britian’s fear that more rounds of voting would garner two thirds support for Bhandari were not unfounded but India was hell bent on not letting go.

The research came handy and India’s point against invoking any other mechanism conceded.

The 15-member ICJ, UN’s top judicial organ, settles disputes between countries. Five judges are elected every three years and serve for nine years.

Bhandari’s election had sufficient drama that ended with UK pulling out from the contest following an overwhelming support in the UN General Assembly  for the Indian judge.

UK needed support from 8 Members of the Security Council to stall voting but for countries to go along with with UK’s joint conference proposal would have punctured claims of strategic partnership with India that countries like France and USA  have professed time and again. Therefore, their hands were, in one sense, tied.  Upsetting India to please UK was not part of their plan and hence support to India’s opposition for a joint mechanism.

On November 9, the UNGA and Security Council members had elected judges to four of the five seats, with India and Britain competing for the fifth.  Repeatedly over 11 rounds, the UNGA, made up of 193 countries, voted overwhelmingly for  Dalveer Bhandari, while the 15-member Security Council voted 9 to 5 in favour of Britain, which is one of five permanent members of the security council. India is currently not a member.

The joint mechanism that Britian pushed for  involved picking three countries each from the the UNGA and the UNSC, which would then choose one candidate. But the flip side was ignoring the voice of the majority: something countries were averse to. The joint consultation mechanism, which was last used some 96 years ago, also had few takers because many of the UNSC members, including some permanent members who were supporting Britain in the secret ballot, backed off from voting in favour of the UK’s move as this required open voting.

India has been seeking that the democratic process needs to play its full course in both the Security Council and the General Assembly and there should not be an intervention or adoption of a process that has never been used before or the one that undermines the voice of the majority.

However, there were sure signs of nervousness among the P-5 at the prospect of India's nominee winning against Britain's candidate in the election to the last seat of the World Court as it would set a precedent that might challenge their power in the future: something they would not want repeated. "Today it is Britain, tomorrow it could be any one of us" was a fear that none wanted to face up to. It would  also be reflective of the new global order, which the  world powers could well do without.

Easily the biggest diplomatic victory for India in years, this  would be the first time   in the 71-year-old history of ICJ  that there will be no British judge; also  when a P-5 country will not be represented in the ICJ, a privilege taken for granted until now; another first is that a permanent member of the Security Council lost to a non-permanent member for a seat in the ICJ.

This would be Bhandari’s second term at the world court.

If PM Narendra Modi tweeted this as India’s proud moment, Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted Vande Mataram and Jai Hind. To drive home the importance of this feat, Modi made a special mention of this victory at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit earlier this week.

Average Indians may have missed the importance of this win but the underlying message for the cozy club and the world at large is that  winds of change are on the anvil and India cannot no longer be taken lightly. Even in the face of isolation it would stand on its own and do what it takes to turn the events in its favour. India fought hard and it fought well.

Justice Bhandari’s victory is significant because it adds to India’s clout  in UN bodies. He is the third Indian to secure a prominent position in a United Nations (UN) body in recent months. Earlier, International law expert Neeru Chadha was elected to the UN body, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), in Hamburg in June;  last month, Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), was appointed deputy director general for programmes at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Other Indians in key positions in the UN system include former diplomat Lakshmi Puri who is assistant secretary-general for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Another former Indian diplomat Atul Khare is currently the UN Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.

The Congress, however,  slammed the Modi government for taking credit for a victory that was “expected”.

 But the Congress stands out like a “sore thumb” in all this. As Indians they failed to take pride in the fact that  India's rising profile could swing other countries towards its position; this election has shown that the P5 glass ceiling cannot possibly sustain for too long; and more importantly it shows that India has come of age and would go that extra mile for its interests.

 And in this context one must credit the Modi government and in this case Sushma Swaraj headed Foreign Ministry for doing its homework and being in a state of preparedness armed with facts, figures and arguments and clinching a deal that was ready to slip away.

Also the proactive role by Prime Minister Modi and  Sushma Swaraj is indicative of the change in work culture that has come about under the new dispensation where officials can no longer be caught napping.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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