What a terrific win it was for India! All of a sudden it was India who was grabbing all international headlines in all newspapers and news channels all over the world! It is beyond a straw of doubt that we all Indians felt on top of the world to see how India managed to shine par excellence and even left behind the UK once called Great Britain who ruled over us for centuries!
Yes, I am talking about India’s scoring a major diplomatic victory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as its nominee Dalveer Bhandari who is a former Judge of the Supreme Court and who is about to complete his 9 year term as an ICJ Judge in his first term which started from 2007 was once again re-elected for another 9 year term with a convincing margin of more than two-third members backing him after the UK decided to withdrew its candidate Christopher Greenwood from the race in the 12th round as it knew that the defeat of its candidate was certain.
In hindsight, Justice Bhandari has always enjoyed an impeccable and unblemished reputation throughout his career as a Judge. While he was the Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court, his tenure was known for his order which led to more allocation of funds for malnourished children in the most deprived regions of Maharashtra. He is a Padma Bhushan recipient himself and hails from a family of legal personalities and has been part of the judiciary of India since the early 1970s.
He was elevated as a senior Judge of the Supreme Court of India on October 28, 2005. His judgments on socio-economic cases distinguished him from the other Judges. His orders in the Supreme Court left a mark on the right to food campaign and led to the release of higher quantity of food grains to the people living below the poverty line. His landmark orders also helped children from the less privileged sections of society gain access to basic infrastructure in the primary and secondary schools.
Let me be candid enough to admit that even India itself was not expecting such a smooth cake walk with its nominee Dalveer Bhandari once again walking back to reoccupy the hallowed portals of Judge of ICJ for another 9 year term from 2018-2027. This is really great and phenomenal. Every Indian must be proud of this great achievement which came despite UK giving a tough fight to India. An elated Bhandari was candid enough to admit that the voting was marked by many tense moments. He very rightly said that, “The election this time was more eventful in the sense that it went on and on. And my re-election is more a victory of all Indians and the country.”
Be it noted, Dalveer Bhandari received 183 of the 193 votes in the General Assembly and secured all the 15 votes in the Security Council after separate and simultaneous elections were held at the UN headquarters in New York. No doubt, India has pulled off a diplomatic coup by winning the much prized ICJ seat. Even UK had wanted its candidate Christopher to win once again but fortunately for India and most unfortunately for UK they could not manage to steal the show and upset India’s huge thumping support that it got from almost all the members in the UN General Assembly.
To tell the truth, there are many firsts that are inextricably linked with Bhandari’s excellent performance in ICJ. This is the first time in over seven decades of the United Nations, that the UK will not be represented in the ICJ; and this is the first time that one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council lost out to an ordinary member in a race. This is what makes India’s victory more special and sweeter for which all Indians should feel proud of!
No doubt, this is also a big boost for India’s legitimate claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Some news channels must be commended for highlighting this on their prime time shows. It is also worth noting here that this is also the first time that one sitting member of the ICJ lost out to another sitting member. India thanked the UN members for supporting re-election of its Judge to the International Court of Justice, saying the election process reflected respect for its constitutional integrity and independent judiciary.
Proud moment for India
It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that Bhandari coming out with flying colours yet once again in the ICJ is a special proud moment for India as also for Bhandari himself. Commending Bhandari’s re-election, PM Narendra Modi called it a “proud moment” for India. He also tweeted, “Congratulations to EAM @Sushma Swaraj and her entire team at MEA and diplomatic missions for their untiring efforts that have led to India’s reelection to ICJ. Our deep gratitude to all the members of UNGA as well as UNSC for their support and trust in India.” It also must be noted here that the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that, “The extraordinary support from the UN membership is reflective of the respect for strong constitutional integrity of the Indian polity and the independence of the judiciary in India.”
To be sure, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also tweeted, “Congratulations to Justice Dalveer Bhandari on his reelection as a Judge of the ICJ. Huge efforts by Team MEA. Syed Akbaruddin, our Permanent Representative in the UN deserves a special mention.” No doubt, Sushma Swaraj herself also left no stone unturned to solicit more and more support for Bhandari and she made more than 60 phone calls to her counterparts soliciting support. She also held talks with European countries at various levels and even though some were very stubborn but ultimately they were persuaded to support Bhandari.
It deserves special mention here that it was Syed Akbaruddin who first broke the news on Twitter as soon as the results were announced. Also, Syed Akbaruddin must be applauded for speaking exceptionally well at a reception in honour of Bhandari and which was attended by representatives of over 160 countries on November 16, had sought to highlight the point that “only the candidate who enjoys overwhelming support of the General Assembly membership can be the only legitimate candidate to go through.” He also met Vice Prime Minister from Democratic republic of Congo, Leonard She Okitundu. Akbaruddin explained her about the vote and how the victory of Bhandari would benefit the world community at large. A top official who was privy to the ICJ negotiations said that, “This vote reflected how the world viewed India vis-à-vis the UK. It was a revelation for us as well.”
Not to be left behind, even Matthew Rycroft who is UK’s permanent representative to the UN also congratulated India for such an emphatic win! He remarked that, “If the UK could not win in the run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. The UK would continue to cooperate closely with India at the UN globally.” But in the same breath, Rycroft could not hide his true feelings of anguish over Christopher and lamented that, “We’re naturally disappointed, but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates. The UK has concluded that it is wrong to continue to take up the valuable time of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly with further rounds of elections.”
To be sure, even the UK media termed Justice Bhandari’s victory over Britain’s candidate as a “humiliating blow for the UK”! It branded the “acrimonious” vote as a sign of Britain’s eroding stature on the world stage. The British newspaper Guardian reported with concern that, “The UK will not have a Judge on the Bench of the International Court of Justice for the first time in its 71-year history.” But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson while addressing the House of Commons dismissed the suggestion that the defeat of the UK candidate was a “failure” of British diplomacy. He contended that the withdrawal of Greenwood was linked to the “long-standing objective of UK foreign policy to support India in the United Nations.” However, notwithstanding what Boris Johnson said to soothe the frayed tempers of his country-fellows, there can be no getting away from the irrefutable and unenviable fact that UK has been badly knocked out by India and that too in a prestigious body like ICJ.
As things stood, the winning candidate required a majority in both the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council but 11 rounds of voting had ended with India winning in the General Assembly and the UK winning in the Security Council. Interestingly enough, while four candidates were elected smoothly to ICJ, the real fight ensued between Bhandari and Greenwood with Bhandari having an upper hand right from the beginning and ultimately emerging as a victor in the end. Of course, the UK had managed to secure nine of the 15 UN Security Council votes in the previous rounds while India enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly.
No prizes for guessing that this lead to a stalemate. What is more, UK initially wanted to suspend the voting process and move to a conference mechanism that has never been used in the history of the UN to break the stalemate. But this was bitterly opposed by India and UK thus could not muster adequate support in favour of its candidate.
Also, this move needed approval by the UN Security Council in an open voting while the voting for the ICJ is through a secret ballot. It must be revealed here that UK began to realize just before its withdrew its candidate that the UK would not have nine members to support publicly the proposal to suspend further rounds of voting. A UN insider also revealed that, “Some members who voted for Britain’s candidate, told them that they could not vote for the suspension of the voting process”.
In a dramatic turn of events, UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN Matthew Rycroft wrote to the President of the General Assembly and the Security Council shortly before voting, informing them that their nominee Greenwood has decided to withdraw from the race. The two Presidents then read out the letter in their respective chambers. The rest as is called is history now!
Needless to say, India thanked the UN members for supporting the re-election of its Judge Dalveer Bhandari to the ICJ. It would be pertinent to note that Justice Dalveer Bhandari featured in some of the interesting cases on issues of global importance such as nuclear disarmament, territorial and maritime resources, and climate change-related disputes, global terrorism and financial regulation. An official also pointed out that Judge Bhandari’s tenure in the ICJ is significant as it coincided with the changing nature of the court itself as it reaffirmed arrival of the new global players like India.
All said and done, the landmark victory of Justice Dalveer Bhandari is not his victory alone. It is the victory of our nation as a whole. The Government in the Centre too has every right to claim credit for it because no one can dispute that Centre really worked hard for ensuring that Justice Dalveer Bhandari once again sits in the ICJ as a Judge and not shiver out in the cold.
It is also an indisputable fact that Centre left no opportunity unused and made extra efforts to ensure that support for Bhandari was more forthcoming and this backchannel talk certainly worked in his favour and tipped the scales ultimately in his favour! We all must celebrate this because this is the biggest proof that India’s clout in the international arena in last few years has increased tremendously by leaps and bounds. Diplomats at UN very rightly describe this landslide victory as “a reflection of reality of 21st century”. There can be no denying it!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.