The election of the Indian candidate Dalveer Bhandari to the prestigious International Court of Justice, popularly known as the World Court, comes as another shot in the arm for the Modi Government. In a bitterly fought completion for the lone vacancy in the ICJ, Justice Bhandari was locked in a bitter contest with Sir Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom. After eleven rounds of voting in the United Nations, seeing the writing on the wall, the British candidate withdrew on Monday. India’s new-found assertiveness in foreign councils had paid off yet again. It will be the first time in the ICJ’s 70-year-old history that the UK, a permanent member of the Security Council, will not have a judge on the ICJ bench.
For Bhandari, it will be his second consecutive term. The peculiar voting system, admittedly a hang-over of the Cold War era global power structures, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly wield almost equal weightage. The British candidate won nine of the 15 votes in the UNSC while his Indian rival had five. A majority in both the UNSC and the UNGA is required to win a place in the ICJ. In the last round of voting in the UNGA, Bhandari won 121 votes while Greenwood secured 68. The stalemate was unlikely to be resolved given the huge tilt in favour of India in the UNGA.
Realizing the futility of trying to canvass any further for support among a majority of nations who had sided with India, the British sought to make the best of a bad situation, withdrawing their candidate in favour of Justice Bhandari in view of the “the close relationship that the UK and India have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy”. The ICJ, which sits at The Hague, has 15 judges, elected for nine-year terms. Both, Bhandari and Greenwood, had already served a term each. This was the contest for the last seat on the court, others having been already elected in the run-offs preceding the India-UK contest. Disputes between member-countries of the UN and over matters hinging on the sovereignty of individual nations generally go to The Hague.
For instance, The Hague court rejected the Chinese claims over the disputed waters of the South China Sea on a complaint by the Philippines, though it is another matter that the Chinese have sought to brazen out the verdict. Meanwhile, the UK reversal at the UN underlines the growing resentment even among its neighbours, fuelled further by the Brexit move, no doubt, and its diminishing standing in the changing geopolitical situation. On the other hand, India, particularly after the advent of Modi at the Centre, has come to enjoy renewed respect and importance in a large swathe of the world, especially given its potential role as a major bulwark along with Japan, against an increasingly bullying and aggressive China due to its vastly enhanced military and economic heft.
For sure, in the on-going campaign in Gujarat, the Indian victory at the UN is bound to be a talking point along with the recent upgrade by the Moody’s and the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business report. It may be a sheer coincidence that these global feathers in the PM’s cap come at a time when the Crown Prince Rahul Gandhi, at long last, feels obliged to formally take over the headship of the Congress Party.