India may be “emerged” in the sound bite used by US President Barack Obama during his landmark visit last year. But if the UN vote on a no-fly zone is anything to go by, New Delhi’s rise to wield global economic clout has so far not been replicated as easily on the geopolitical stage.
Despite vocal opposition to a no-fly zone in Libya , India decided as a non-permanent security council member to abstain at the United Nations, along with fellow BRIC, Brazil, on the issue.
Realpolitik, the government may say. Who would want to be seen as the only opponent of the no-fly zone (the only other “opposition” came from abstained German, Russia, China). And there is a danger India would be seen as supporting Gaddafi.
But unlike China – which as one of five permanent security council members could destroy any plans for the no-fly zone with its single veto – India’s opposition would have been seen as purely symbolic, and would have signalled widespread worries among many countries that the West will quickly get involved in a military quagmire.
Brazil, which was vocal in its opposition to getting involved militarily in Libya, also abstained.
Maybe a vote against would have been politically impossible amid a flexing of its muscle by the United States. But India may have lost an opportunity to develop a single voice on the world stage, flip-flopping over its first major test since assuming its UN seat in January. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the motion, the United States clearly has set the agenda and shown that it is still the effective world military and diplomatic power.
India saw the UN seat as its coming of age. Obama may have feted India last year, but he also warned that with added power comes added responsibility. He was referring to India’s position on a host of delicate diplomatic issues such as Iran and Myanmar.
India’s economy may be booming, but so far its diplomatic voice is rather hoarse.