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SOURCE: MONEY CONTROL

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent book has awakened memories of a forgotten episode in India’s diplomatic history. The awakening could not have been timelier because it coincides with observances in New York marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, two speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to 193 UN members and brisk preparations for India’s elevation to the world’s diplomatic high table in 13 weeks.

Jaishankar’s reference to the forgotten episode in ‘The India Way: Strategies for An Uncertain World’ is only one sentence: “The politics of the Cold War also combined with Pakistan’s mobilization of the Islamic world to block India at the Security Council elections of 1975.”

Forty-five years later, it is difficult for most Indians to imagine that Pakistan got more votes than India in the General Assembly in six out of seven rounds of polling for the sole Asian seat in the UN Security Council. In the only round where India worsted Pakistan, it was by just one vote.

Reading the official records of the 2,387th Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on October 23, 1975, is instructive. Of the nine countries which addressed the General Assembly on that day, not one — not even Mauritius, the friendliest of them all — conclusively supported India’s bid to become a member of the UNSC. After listening to the nine speeches, a dejected Rikhi Jaipal, Permanent Representative of India to the UN, withdrew his country’s candidature. The same day Pakistan was elected to the UN Security Council with 123 votes out of 136 members present in the General Assembly.

Support for India in the UN is now at a historic peak compared to 1975 — or 21 years later, when New Delhi lost miserably to Tokyo 40 to 142 in another UNSC election. This year, India won the support of 184 out of 193 countries in its passage to the council, similar to the 187 votes it got in 2010 when it was last elected to sit at the famous horseshoe table. India has not lost any UN election in recent memory. In one keenly-watched election to an agency, India set a new record by defeating China, one of the Big Five at the UN.

The forgotten 1975 episode is important because such impressive gains are at serious risk of being set back this year in the just-opened General Assembly. For the first time since Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the toast of the world in 1953 as the first woman to be elected President of the General Assembly, the plenary of the world has fallen into the hands of those who are opposed to India.

Turkish diplomat-politician Volkan Bozk?r, who became President of the General Assembly (PGA) on September 15, can be counted on do everything in his power in the next one year against India’s global and national interests. Such a straw in the wind was already in evidence at a high-level meeting this week to commemorate the UN’s 75th year.

With scant regard for sensibilities at such a historic setting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raked up the Kashmir issue earning praise from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and a stern rebuke from India’s Permanent Representative in New York, TS Tirumurti. A statement issued on September 23 in New York, New Delhi and three other capitals, which hints at Bozkir’s nefarious intent in the coming months is an indication of the challenges for Indian diplomacy that lie ahead.

The PGA will do his utmost, once the annual General Debate by heads of state and government is over, to roll back the hard-earned progress by the Group of Four (G-4) countries in the last 15 years to advance, howsoever slowly, towards restructuring the UN Security Council to include themselves as permanent members of the council. The G-4 consists of India, Brazil, Japan and Germany.

Bozkir’s immediate and important task from India’s standpoint is to appoint new chairpersons for a committee for inter-governmental negotiations on reforming the UNSC. Who he chooses as co-chairs will be critical to pushing India’s case for a permanent seat in a restructured council. This week there were deep concerns in New Delhi, Brasilia, Tokyo and Berlin than Bozkir would side with the so-called Coffee Club, which includes Pakistan, Italy and Mexico, to harm the G-4 positions.

Since 2015, every incoming PGA has visited New Delhi for consultations before taking charge of the world’s parliament. Bozkir did not. Instead, he went to Pakistan, which is customarily not in any PGA-designate’s itinerary. That tells its own story.