a) This year, on Jerusalem

When India voted on a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution last week on the status of Jerusalem, going against the wishes of the U.S. and Israel, many observers of its foreign policy were surprised. The resolution did not make a direct reference to the recent U.S. decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and shift its embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv. Through the resolution adopted with 128 in favour to nine against, with 35 abstentions, the 193-member UNGA expressed “deep regret” over “recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem” and stressed that Jerusalem “is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant U.N. resolutions,” between Israel and Palestine.

India’s stand

The surprise over the Indian vote was not because it fell out of line with the country’s foreign policy as we have known it, but because of an apparent deviation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new strategic thinking. Much has been written on the ‘Modi strategic doctrine’ but the concept has been pithily summarised by Mr. Modi himself and explained by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on earlier occasions — the goal is to transform India from being a ‘balancing power’ to a ‘leading power’ on the international stage. U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy released recently offers support for this aspiration of India to emerge as a ‘leading power.’ India’s Jerusalem vote can be interpreted as a continuing adherence to its traditional policy of non-alignment. But a more appropriate interpretation of the vote is possible within the framework of India’s leading power ambitions. To do that, we need to also see the vote in conjunction with two other votes in the recent past at the UN. The first was in June, when India supported a move by Mauritius to take its sovereignty claims over the British-controlled Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), against the wishes of the U.S.; the second was in November when India won a seat on the ICJ, in spite of active opposition from the U.S. On the Jerusalem vote in the UNGA, which is not binding, if India had voted against the resolution, it would have ended up in the company of seven countries that joined the U.S. and Israel. These are Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo, the combined population of which roughly equals the population of Delhi. In the 2012 Gujarat Assembly election, Mr. Modi won more votes in the Maninagar constituency than the population of four of these countries. Not exactly the group that India might want to lead, as second deputy after America and Israel. The second option was abstaining, along with Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Benin, Canada, Cameroon, Croatia, Haiti, etc. Of these, Canada, which used to vote with the U.S. on Israel resolutions, moved away from the U.S. position this time. Canada and Mexico also face the threat of the dismantling of the North American Free Trade Agreement by the Trump administration. As for Australia, its interests in West Asia are hardly comparable to India’s. In any case, not taking a position on an issue is hardly worthy of an aspiring leader. Supporters of the ‘leading power’ doctrine often argue, rightly, that India must be more forthright and articulate in expressing its position on issues confronting the world. As it did, for instance, by speaking up on the Belt and Road Initiative. So, abstaining was not an attractive option for an aspiring leading power.

Many advantages

Suboptimal as it might be as a choice, voting for the resolution put India in the company of the overwhelming majority of the world. It kept India in the company of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), groupings that India continues to value under the Modi government. While BRICS and the SCO stayed together, the American-led NATO split on the issue, and even the Five Eyes countries of the English-speaking West — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. — did not stay together on this vote. And India has far more significant interests in West Asian peace and stability than many of these countries. South Korea and Japan, treaty allies of the U.S. in the midst of a nuclear threat from North Korea, also voted for the resolution. Yes, India voted alongside Pakistan, but that happens quite often. Some critics of the Indian vote have said Islamic countries do not support India on Kashmir. In 2016, Pakistan raised Kashmir nine times at the U.N.; in 2017, seven times, a total of 16 times. There are 57 countries in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and statistically, there were 912 chances for a statement against India on Kashmir over the last two years by an Islamic country. But it has not happened even once. While India under Mr. Modi’s brand of Hindutva nationalism is seeking leadership status on the global stage, the U.S. under Mr. Trump is undergoing a transition from being a hegemon to being a bully in its leadership role. The Jerusalem decision itself and the rhetoric that preceded the UNGA vote is a stark demonstration of this new U.S. posture. The disruptive streak in Mr. Trump opens new possibilities for India’s leading power ambitions, but that cannot be achieved by blindly following American diktats. The Chagos Archipelago vote in June and India’s ICJ contest in November bear out that fact. Mauritius wanted the UNGA to request the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion on its sovereignty claim over archipelago as it considers it as an unfinished agenda of decolonization. The U.S. recognises U.K. sovereignty over the territory and they jointly operate the Diego Garcia military base there. India voted in support of the resolution, overcoming the fear of a bilateral dispute being taken to ICJ. “The process of decolonization that started with our own independence, still remains unfinished seven decades later,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, said in a statement on India’s vote. The resolution was passed with 94 countries voting in favour, 15 against and 65 abstaining. In November, the U.S. supported the U.K. in its contest against India for an ICJ seat, as did all other permanent members of the Security Council. India stood its ground and won the day as the UNGA overwhelmingly supported it, forcing other permanent members to limit their support to the U.K., which finally withdrew its candidate. It is not difficult to draw a link between the two votes. Leading power ambitions are not realised by declaring unquestioning allegiance to anyone. If you see Nehruvian thinking in this script, it must be read with the caveat that any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended. If you are worried that this might make the U.S. unhappy towards India, be assured, not any more unhappy than it can be towards the U.K. that voted against it — after all, the U.S. had voted for it in the ICJ election against India. And the vote is only as much an appeasement of the increasingly marginalised Muslims of India, as Japan’s vote for the resolution can be an appeasement of its 100,000-strong Muslims. Three UNGA votes over six months are more about multilateral diplomacy coming of age. India can be great friends with the U.S. and Israel and still disagree with them on some issues.

b) On the line: on India-China boundary talks

The meeting between the Special Representatives of India and China — National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and State Councillor Yang Jiechi — on the boundary question on December 22, the 20th so far, was unique for a number of reasons. The talks came more than 20 months after the last round, reflecting a period of extreme strain in India-China ties, including the 70-day troop stand-off at Doklam this year. Previous meetings had followed each other within a year. Also, at the recent Communist Party Congress, Mr. Yang was elevated to the Political Bureau, and this is the first time the Chinese side has been represented by an SR of such seniority. As a result, the two sides were best poised to move ahead in the three-step process that was part of the Agreement on ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question’ in 2005 — that is, defining the guidelines for the settlement of border disputes, formulating a framework agreement on the implementation of the guidelines, and completing border demarcation. The SRs were given an extended mandate after meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping this year, and thus went well beyond the remit of discussing the resolution of boundary issues. Above all, they were guided by the Modi-Xi agreements of 2017, including the ‘Astana consensus’ that “differences must not be allowed to become disputes”, and the understanding at Xiamen that India-China relations “are a factor of stability” in an increasingly unstable world. It would be a mistake, however, to infer that with all these engagements the worst in bilateral ties is now behind the two countries. Since 2013, when the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed, there has been a steady decline in relations in all spheres. The border has seen more transgressions, people-to-people ties have suffered amid mutual suspicion, and China’s forays in South Asia as well as India’s forays into South-East Asian sea lanes have increasingly become areas of contestation. In India, this is seen as the outcome of China’s ambition of geopolitical domination. In this vitiated atmosphere India views every move by China as a targeted assault — such as the Belt and Road Initiative with the economic corridor with Pakistan, the free trade agreement with the Maldives, and the blocking of India’s membership bid at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In turn, Beijing sees the U.S.-India defence agreements, the Quadrilateral engagement with Japan, Australia and the U.S., and Indian opposition to the BRI quite the same way. The stand-off at Doklam was a hint of what may ensue at greater regularity unless greater attention is paid to resolving the differences for which the SR meetings process was set up in the first place.


1) Embassy

Meaning: The official residence or offices of an ambassador.

Example: “the Chilean embassy in Moscow”

Synonyms: Consulate, Legation

2) Concerning

Meaning: On the subject of or in connection with; about.

Example: “we are given little information concerning matters of national security”

Synonyms: About, Regarding

3) Apparent

Meaning: Clearly visible or understood; obvious.

Example: “for no apparent reason she laughed”

Synonyms: Evident, Plain

Antonyms: Unclear, Obscure

4) Pithily

Meaning: (of speech or writing) expressing an idea cleverly in a few words

Example: A pithy remark.

Synonyms: Short speech

Antonyms: Brief, Brevity

5) Aspiration

Meaning: A hope or ambition of achieving something.

Example: “the needs and aspirations of the people”

Synonyms: Desire, Hope

6) Interpreted

Meaning: Explain the meaning of (information or actions).

Example: “the evidence is difficult to interpret”

Synonyms: Explain, Elucidate

7) Adherence

Meaning: Attachment or commitment to a person, cause, or belief.

Example: “a strict adherence to etiquette”

8) Conjunction

Meaning: The action or an instance of two or more events or things occurring at the same point in time or space.

Example: “a conjunction of favourable political and economic circumstances”

Synonyms: Concurrence, Coincidence

9) Binding

Meaning: (of an agreement or promise) involving an obligation that cannot be broken.

Example: “business agreements are intended to be legally binding”

Synonyms: Unbreakable, Unalterable

10) Dismantling

Meaning: Take (a machine or structure) to pieces.

Example: “the engines were dismantled and the bits piled into a heap”

Synonyms: Disassemble, Deconstruct

Antonyms: Assemble, Build

11) Aspiring

Meaning: Directing one’s hopes or ambitions towards becoming a specified type of person.

Example: “an aspiring artist”

Synonyms: Pursue

Antonyms: Feckless

12) Doctrine

Meaning: A belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a Church, political party, or other group.

Example: “the doctrine of predestination”

Synonyms: Creed, Credo

13) Forthright

Meaning: (of a person or their manner or speech) direct and outspoken.

Example: “his most forthright attack yet on the reforms”

Synonyms: Frank, Direct

Antonyms: Secretive, Dishonest

14) Articulate

Meaning: Having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.

Example: “she was not very articulate”

Synonyms: Eloquent, Fluent

Antonyms: Inarticulate, Hesitant

15) Confronting

Meaning: Come face to face with (someone) with hostile or argumentative intent.

Example: “300 policemen confronted an equal number of union supporters”

Synonyms: Challenge, Resist

Antonyms: Avoid

16) Suboptimal

Meaning: Of less than the highest standard or quality.

Example: “suboptimal working conditions”

17) Overwhelming

Meaning: Very great in amount.

Example: “his party won overwhelming support”

Synonyms: Profuse, Immense

Antonyms: Small

18) Undergoing

Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).

Example: “he underwent a life-saving brain operation”

Synonyms: Experience, Undertake

19) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: “he is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole”

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence

20) Stark

Meaning: Severe or bare in appearance or outline.

Example: “the ridge formed a stark silhouette against the sky”

Synonyms: Sharp, Evident

Antonyms: Fuzzy, Comfortable

21) Disruptive

Meaning: Causing or tending to cause disruption.

Example: “disruptive pupils”

Synonyms: Troublesome, Undisciplined

Antonyms: Well behaved, Manageable

22) Archipelago

Meaning: An extensive group of islands.

Example: “the Indonesian archipelago”

23) Decolonization

Meaning: The process in which a country that was previously a colony (= controlled by another country) becomes politically independent.

Synonyms: Self-government

24) Abstaining

Meaning: Formally decline to vote either for or against a proposal or motion.

Example: “forty-one voted with the Opposition, and some sixty more abstained”

Synonyms: Refrain, Desist

25) Allegiance

Meaning: Loyalty or commitment to a superior or to a group or cause.

Example: “those wishing to receive citizenship must swear allegiance to the republic”

Synonyms: Loyalty, Fidelity

Antonyms: Disloyalty, Treachery

26) Resemblance

Meaning: A way in which two or more things are alike.

Example: “the physical resemblances between humans and apes”

Synonyms: Similarity, Likeness

Antonyms: Dissimilarity

27) Appeasement

Meaning: The action or process of appeasing.

Example: “a policy of appeasement”

Synonyms: Conciliation, Propitiation

Antonyms: Provocation, Aggression

28) Stand-off

Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.

Example: “the 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Standstill

29) Poised

Meaning: Having a composed and self-assured manner.

Example: “not every day you saw that poised, competent kid distressed”

Synonyms: Self-assured, Composed

Antonyms: Excited, Inelegant

30) Formulating

Meaning: Express (an idea) in a concise or systematic way.

Example: “the argument is sufficiently clear that it can be formulated mathematically”

Synonyms: Express, Articulate

31) Demarcation

Meaning: The action of fixing the boundary or limits of something.

Example: “the demarcation of the maritime border”

Synonyms: Separation, Distinction

32) Remit

Meaning: Cancel or refrain from exacting or inflicting (a debt or punishment).

Example: “the excess of the sentence over 12 months was remitted”

Synonyms: Cancel, Revoke

33) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: “there is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed”

Synonyms: Agreement, Concord

Antonyms: Disagreement

34) Transgressions

Meaning: An act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct; an offence.

Example: “I’ll be keeping an eye out for further transgressions”

Synonyms: Offence, Crime

Antonyms: Obedience

35) Suspicion

Meaning: Cautious distrust.

Example: “her activities were regarded with suspicion by the headmistress”

Synonyms: Misgiving, Qualm

36) Contestation

Meaning: The action or process of disputing or arguing.

Example: “ideological contestation over social policy in the European Union”

37) Geopolitical

Meaning: Political activity as influenced by the physical features of a country or area of the world.

Example: These developments are having a major impact on the geopolitics of the region.

Synonyms: Accession

38) Vitiated

Meaning: To destroy or damage something.

Example: He said that American military power should never again be vitiated by political concerns.

Synonyms: Degrade, Decline

39) Assault

Meaning: Carry out a military attack or raid on (an enemy position).

Example: “they left their strong position to assault the hill”

Synonyms: Attack, Assail

40) Ensue

Meaning: Happen or occur afterwards or as a result.

Example: “the difficulties which ensued from their commitment to Cuba”

Synonyms: Result, Follow

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