So the Government of India has formally nominated Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information as its official candidate for the post of the UN Secretary General which will be vacated by the current holder of the post, Kofi Annan towards the end of the year.
Shashi Tharoor has all the qualifications, which the spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry has spelt out. It is Asia'sturn now to hold that high international office. And, given the facts, Tharoor should make an ideal Secretary General. But would he have the support of the permanent members of the Security Council? And of the United States in particular?
The last time the name of an Indian nominee was put out, it was sabotaged by none other than V.K.Krishna Menon. Menon wanted his own nominee, Arthur Lal, to adorn the post. Lal was a crony of Menon and was then India'srepresentative to the world body, but was not in the good books of Washington.
When Menon suggested Lal'sname, the reaction of Adlai Stevenson, then the US Chief Representative to the United States was to say: ?Over my dead body!? Whereupon Krishna Menon suggested another name, that of M.J.Desai, then India'sForeign Secretary. Stevenson negated that name as well. When, finally, Stevenson himself suggested the name of B.K.Nehru, Menon'svicious reply was: ?He is not acceptable to the Government of India.? B.K.Nehru was then Indian Ambassador to the US and was quite popular with the American establishment.
As he tells the story in his autobiography entitled Nice Guys Finish Second: ?All I had to do in order to clinch the appointment for myself was to pick up the telephone, ring up the Prime Minister and tell him that I wanted the job. There would have been no question at all of his not supporting my candidature and instructing Shri Menon, no matter how unwilling he might be, to carry out his orders.? The Prime Minister then, of course, was Jawaharlal Nehru.
Foolishly, B.K.Nehru declined to call up the Prime Minister and India lost its first chance of getting one of its own as the UN Secretary General. In the circumstances, the post went to Burma'sU Thant. That is old story and it is a pleasure to know that the current nominee to the UN Secretary General'spost is a unanimous choice. To the best of one'sknowledge Tharoor has said or done nothing to invite Washington'swrath. And, as of now, neither China nor Japan has named one of its own for the world post.
Besides, India has a longer record of UN membership and a far better claim to the Secretary General'spost considering its unique services in several UN Peace Keeping Operations. Pakistan may object, and most certainly it will. But it has no leg to stand on. All things considered, Tharoor should stand a good chance to beat all rivals but?and this is the truly million dollar question?can he be anything more than a figurehead? Can he, for instance, bring about much-needed reforms in the United Nations?
Among the 190 odd members of the UN General Assembly there is a general realisation that it is high time that vital changes are made to the UN structure, not the least being the reformation of the Security Council. As everyone knows, the United States is back-tracking on this issue. It is afraid of change; afraid, in fact, that any change might reduce its standing in the United Nations as the Number One global power. It wants a pliant UN Secretary General who will willingly do its bidding. In other words, Washington wants a Yes-Man at the UN. Will Tharoor fill the bill? When it comes to exercising power, the United States can be vicious when it suited it, it declined to pay its annual dues to the UNESCO?a UN subsidiary.
The United States is the leading financial supporter of the UN. Should it refuse to support it or even make a delay in making annual payment of membership fee, the UN and all its attendant bodies would come down like a house of cards.
According to Kofi Annan, last December, barely six months ago, member states of the world body adopted a budget for the biennium 2006-2007 that was just enough to run the world body for six months! The main contributors to the budget, led by the United States insisted that the spending cap should be lifted only when there was a significant progress on UN reform.
As Kofi Annan said it in a statement, since made public, ?We are now perilously near the deadline and it is far from clear that enough reform to satisfy them has been achieved?. In other words, the United Nations will become bankrupt by the end of June, unless something drastic happens that suits the needs of the United States. It is significant that when UN Assistant Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown in a speech earlier in June suggested that the United States should engage more fully and whole-heartedly with other members of the UN to bring about reform, he created a minor storm.
The United States does not want to be reminded that it has a duty towards fellow members of the world body. Yes, it wants ?reforms? but only such ?reforms? that it approves of?and never mind what other members of the UN?especially the developing countries?think. In such a situation the chances of Tharoor becoming UN Secretary General seem thin unless, of course, New Delhi surrenders to Washington in total submission. Given the present situation that does not seem impossible.
The United States is slowly turning away from Pakistan and if India can assign a pliant official to succeed Kofi Annan, nothing would suit the US better. But is the Congress-led UPA government willing and ready to play second fiddle to the United States? Can it? Even more importantly, should it?
Should the Government of India indicate its willingness to cooperate with the US, as for example, on the nuclear issue, it might even be rewarded not only with the elevation of Shashi Tharoor at the United Nations but with a permanent membership of the Security Council. After all, neither Britain, nor France can be expected in the next quarter of a century to stand up to India as a commanding economic power not to speak of a military and IT power.
These two European countries have had a field day in the last sixty years ever since the United Nations was formed. It is now India'sturn to have a larger say in the Security Council and in the UN itself. But now it has to take a political decision. The nomination of Shashi Tharoor is symbolic.
What is at stake is a re-alignment of forces, specifically in Asia and sequentially in the world. All that one can presently do is to wait for policies to change in Delhi with bated breath.