India’s UN connect: A treasured tome

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By Vishnu Makhijani

New Delhi — This one surely is for posterity, perhaps the first exhaustive and definitive work on the India-UN connect over the past seven decades, presented in 70 theme-based chapters spread over three sections.

“It is my conviction that the UN embodies in its ideals India’s aspirations,” writes Hardeep Puri, a former Indian Permanent Representative to the world body, in one of the eight “Memoirs” in the profusely-illustrated 428-page book, “Seven Decades and Beyond – The UN-India Connect” that also contains some extremely rare photographs.

“India can both gain from and give to the global mission of the UN. We are a large multicultural and multilingual country that celebrates diversity. It stands to reason that the UN should, in terms of our civilisational ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family), resonate well in India,” writes Puri, who twice served as the President of the UN Security Council — in August 2011 and November 2012.

“Civilisational humanism and traditional empathy apart, the Indian Constitution — anchored in freedom, human dignity, tolerance, basic and fundamental human rights, the rule of law and progressive directive principles of State policy — would appear to make India and the UN a perfect fit,” says Puri, who also served as the Chairman of the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee from January 2011 to February 2013,

How did the book, which will be released on Friday, come about?

Noting that three broad aspects are explored — India at the UN, the UN and the People and UN Agency profiles — Derk Segaar, Director of the UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan, says, “Through a historic lens, the book aims to uncover the lesser known between these entities, deepening and layering their narratives.”

Along the way, there have been some memorable ups — on climate change, for instance — and downs, to name just one, disarmament.

In various negotiations, “India and other developing countries, as ‘first movers’, succeeded in embedding the moral imperative of climate change into the text of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Conference on Climate Change)”, says the chapter titled “Concerted Action”.

“They took the position that excessive emission of carbon dioxide is a root cause of climate change. Therefore, principles of equality and justice suggest that a country’s responsibility to address climate change can be determined by its total emissions over time as well as its current emissions per capita. This presumes that every individual on the planet has an equal right to the common atmospheric space.

“Countries have a common responsibility to address climate change according to factors such as their emissions over time, population and level of wealth. This idea of equity, after much tough negotiation, was embedded into the UNFCCC in 1992, and thereafter into the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997. All later negotiations and agreements have taken place within these frameworks,” the book says.

Arundhati Ghosh, a former Permanent Representative to the UN office in Geneva, writes in anger of the “sleight of hand” manner in which the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty “was sent to the General Assembly where India not only did not sign it but also voted against it”.

Ghosh died in July 2016 soon after penning her memoir.

Among the others accorded this honour are Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar (retd), a former Force Commander of the UN Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzagovina; Chinmaya Gharekhan, a former Permanent Representative to the UN and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process; and Shashi Tharoor, a former UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and former Minister of State for External Affairs.

“At the heart of this book are the insightful, eloquent and moving essays contributed by eight men and women who have literally made history at the United Nations over the past seven decades. In sharing highlights of their memories, some of which may never have been published before, they have revealed the compassionate heart of the Organisation while also contributing to the historical record of those who follow,” explains Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, the Creative Director of the editorial team that put the book together.

In all this effusive praise, what does the book have to say about India’s aspirations for a permanent seat in an expanded Security Council?

“In its bid for permanent membership of the Security Council, India has sought and received some measure of support from each of the five permanent members, as well as a large number of other nations. However, reform of the main organs of the UN remains famously difficult, since it requires amendments to the Charter, adopted and ratified by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly, including all five of the permanent members,” says a box in bold blue on the opening page of the chapter titled “Power for Peace”, sub-titled “India At The Security Council”.

But then, history is a great leveller. One wonders how, if and when a similar volume comes out 30 years down the line to mark the centenary of the India-UN connect, would detail the movement on this front.


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