This should be self-evident even to those who are not Indian. With influence over the world order this century expected to tilt from west to east, it is not just a travesty of the United Nations’ (UN) ideals to deny India an equal voice at its highest level, it could actually worsen the odds of global peace. That the world’s largest democracy, home to every sixth individual alive, must have a vote no less than any other country has been obvious all along. The realities of this era, however, dictate that an institution built on the rubble of World War II must either reform itself to face the future, or risk turning into a relic of the past.

A permanent seat at the UN Security Council would not be a favour to India, but to all. Addressing the UN’s general assembly on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked how long we must wait for one.

The global body may or may not have been reduced to a “talk shop”, as its critics call it, but reform could raise its prospects of relevance as China begins to exert its clout beyond its borders.

Modi offered a sharp review of the UN’s record, one that is riddled with failures. For all its achievements, he pointed out, too much blood has been spilt through acts of war or terror, with the UN unable to contain either menace. The Prime Minister made no overt reference to China, nor to our Himalayan stand-off, but no one could miss the allusion when he said India’s friendships were never at the cost of a third country, and that New Delhi was not in the business of using diplomacy to create dependency. His rhetorical question that should have made all countries collectively squirm, though, was about the world’s current crisis. Where, he wondered, was the UN in our global fight against the covid pandemic? India, he assured the world, was ready to aid its efforts as a vaccine supplier. He left unsaid Beijing’s bizarre behaviour since the viral outbreak, from its opacity in its early days to brazen displays of disregard for the sovereignty of others.

A Chinese veto has long held a Sword of Damocles over India’s quest for a weighty role in world affairs, though New Delhi’s nuclear policy had no doubt complicated matters. Today, it seems, China fancies itself as a fully paid-up hegemon, ready to bend the world’s future to its will. It has violated India’s borders, muzzled Hong Kong, and glowered at Taiwan. Beijing has some reason to be smug. It is set to be the only major economy that will expand this year, even as India’s contracts by what might be double digits. By the latest estimate, put out by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, our output may shrink by 12.6% this fiscal year. While China quelled its epidemic months ago, India’s corona curve has only just begun to flatten, though actual infections could be multiples higher and our official count just a function of the tests done. Unless our economy recovers soon, the gap between Asia’s big two will widen further. We must not let that happen. But the job of keeping the planet in harmony is the UN’s. If the challenges on this front stiffen, the world may come to rue letting Beijing hold the East’s sole veto. For the sake of peace in Asia and beyond, India must have equal authority at the high table.