After the quick-fire repartee by a junior officer that lobbed Pakistan president Nawaz Sharif's crude Kashmir bomb back at him, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj's speech at the UN General Assembly on Monday turned out to be a damp squib.
Junior officer Eenam Gambhir's 511-word explosive cocktail on Wednesday, put together by foreign service veterans, was supposedly only a standby-response till Sushma Swaraj got her turn today and hence one expected a grand-finale. Unfortunately, when Swaraj finished her speech, Gambhir's trailer remained the main-show. There was nothing in Swaraj's speech that could hurt Pakistan more than the "Ivy League of terrorism" that Gambhir alluded to.
A disappointing anti-climax indeed.
The UN is certainly a place for good manners, diplomacy and development-debates, but it's also a place for high drama. It's right here where a decade ago Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez called former American president Bush a devil because he wanted to be overtly nasty. It's also here where Nikita Khrushchev made his thunderous interventions against America during the cold war period. And most importantly, it's here (although at a different platform) where VK Krishna Menon made his epic eight-hour speech to safeguard India's claim on Kashmir.
Swaraj should have started from where Gambhir stopped and should have rapidly upped the ante. After disrupting peace in Punjab, nearly three decades of fomenting terror in Kashmir, intrusion in Kargil and 26/11, Pathankot and finally Uri attacks, Pakistan deserved absolutely no mercy from India. Going by her captivating performances in the Indian parliament, Swaraj should have gone nothing short of thermo-nuclear.
But surprisingly, she took the conventional route of whitewashing India's poor human development achievements with boring platitudes and reiterating India's commitment to the UN's vision before getting to Pakistan. She began by saying how her government's development vision matched that of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reeled out claims that we know are vacuous--Swachh Bharat, educating the girl child, 250 million bank accounts, Make in India, Digital India and so on.
There is no in point making tall claims because the world knows India's real numbers. India's achievement of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), the unattained predecessor of the SDGs, hasn't been very impressive and on poverty, gender and health, India is not what its leaders project it to be. Various UN reports have told the world that India has the largest number of hungry people, also as a proportion of the population; and that Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh have done better than India in poverty reduction. Real numbers also look bad on maternal and child health or sanitation. Financial inclusion and clean campaigns are just fancy propaganda--just as empty bank accounts don't bring money to people, campaigns don't reduce the stigma of India being home to the world's largest number of open defecators. Neither does Yoga make people healthier. And growth? Even Bangladesh claims an estimated growth of 7.1%.
"There is no in point making tall claims because the world knows India's real numbers."
So, instead of the futile exercise of impressing the world with false claims of cleanliness, prosperity, growth, self-sufficiency, and healthy and happy people, Swaraj should have gotten into Pakistan-bashing straightaway. Why go all the way down to climate change, Paris agreement and even Yoga when what the wounded Indian psyche really wanted was a little bit of glee by shaming Pakistan. When you cannot wage a real war, at least unleash a propaganda war. And Gambhir had done a test-cameo on Wednesday to demonstrate its efficacy. Why change a plot that has worked? Such UN opportunities don't come every day.
By the time Swaraj plodded to the "subject of the most critical importance, one which deeply concerns every member of this Assembly", as she herself described the issue of terrorism, she had finished more than half her speech. Even after reaching there late, she continued in the same vein, speaking in longwinded UN-ease that doesn't bite. Suddenly India seemed to have lost the diplomatic-aggression and hard-hitting scorn that it revelled in a few days ago. Forget that Swaraj didn't take the bull by its horns; she didn't even try to match her junior officer who deftly called Pakistan a terror-state where world's most wanted terrorists roam the streets.
India's legend at the UN in defending Kashmir had been VK Krishna Menon. Although he may not have been as impactful as many others at the UN, including Pakistan's Sir Zafrullah Khan (who finds a praiseworthy mention in Ramachandra Guha's "India After Gandhi"), his tempered language in 1957 was more impactful than Swaraj's. "Why is that we have never heard voice in connection with the freedom of people under the suppression and tyranny of Pakistan authorities on the other side of the cease-fire line. Why is it that we have not heard here that in ten years these people have not seen a ballot paper?" he asked. Remember, Pakistan was not an epicentre of terrorism then as it's today, still Menon could take a moral high-ground. He too was speaking in response to a Pakistani intervention on Kashmir a week earlier.
Instead of gaining more ground in a rightful defamation-campaign, that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi indulged in at the BJP's national council meeting in Kozhikode in Kerala, Swaraj extolled India's virtues as a tolerant nation vis-à-vis Pakistan. And she ended by repeating India's outstanding demands at the UN--CCIT (Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism) and a permanent seat on the Security Council.
Seriously? Doesn't India speak that language every time it stands up at the UN rostrum? Sorry Swaraj, this time, it should have been just Pakistan all the way.