New York, Nov. 15: Former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh’s parting kick to Indian foreign policy was skilfully designed to earn him the gratitude of Left parties, but the ugly manoeuvre has left foreign secretary Shyam Saran and South Block’s junior ministers with a roomful of broken diplomatic pieces to mend in the coming weeks.
As the political noose tightened around Singh following the Volcker Committee report, the diplomat-turned-minister successfully manoeuvred a secret, politically-motivated effort within the ministry of external affairs that ended up at the UN with India appearing to be insensitive to the Nazi Holocaust, which killed more than six million people during World War II.
As news broke in Delhi that Singh had been named in the oil-for-food scandal as a “non-contractual beneficiary”, he was en route home from Moscow.
When he learned during a stopover in Frankfurt that a storm was breaking out in India over the Volcker Committee findings, he did two things.
One, he issued a statement denying any role in the Iraq scam.
Two, he made doubly sure that India would not throw its full weight behind a resolution that was coming up in the UN General Assembly in four days to commemorate January 27 every year as a memorial day for the six million Jews and other victims of the Nazi Holocaust.
The resolution had been mooted by Russia, Canada, Australia, Israel and the US.
Americans at the US mission to the UN told The Telegraph that because of the subject of the resolution and to ensure maximum co-sponsorship, Israel largely kept to the background in lobbying within the General Assembly for its adoption.
Instead, the US mission to the UN took the lead in soliciting support for the resolution.
The foreign minister, who has been trying for a while to prove his leftist credentials, had told senior officials in South Block right at the start of the negotiations in New York that India must not co-sponsor the resolution.
Senior officials were dismayed: they felt that a refusal to co-sponsor a resolution against the Nazi Holocaust would send the wrong message around the world, particularly in Washington and Tel Aviv, with which Delhi has sensitive ties.
But Singh calculated that it would placate the Left and compensate for India’s recent vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against Iran.
Once the Volcker storm broke, Singh made it a personal crusade to ensure that India was not seen as being associated too closely with either Israel or the US on this issue and redoubled his opposition to co-sponsorship of the resolution.
Senior officials reasoned with him that Russia and Canada were sponsoring the resolution, that more than half of UN members were co-sponsors and that 2005 had great symbolic significance for Holocaust victims because it is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet soldiers.
None of these arguments had any effect on the minister.
Fourteen years ago, when India voted at the UN to repeal a resolution equating Zionism with racism, the decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
But instead of taking the issue to a cabinet committee, Singh secretly ensured that India did not co-sponsor the resolution, which the Left might have viewed as pro-Israeli and pro-American.
So, on November 1, the General Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote, but without India’s co-sponsorship.
Although there was no vote, the adoption was not unanimous. Egypt’s UN ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, made his feelings known outside the General Assembly hall: “Why should there be a remembrance day for the Jews and not for Christians and Muslims' We believe no one should have the monopoly on suffering.”
Abdelaziz was supported by Indonesia and Malaysia.
Imeria Nunez de Odreman, the envoy of Venezuela, the only country that voted for Iran at the IAEA, said the US had participated in systematic genocides against the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which must be collectively remembered.
In one of his final acts as foreign minister, Singh saw to it that India was identified with such countries as Venezuela and Egypt on the Nazi Holocaust, instead of China, Brazil, Germany or France, all of which either co-sponsored the Holocaust commemoration or made statements in support of it in the General Assembly.