India has explained its decision to abstain at last week’s vote at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict as its way of protesting the omission of any “explicit condemnation” of the heinous October 7 terror attack by Hamas militants on Israel. India’s principled stand on terrorism, which the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN articulated, cannot be questioned. However, the death toll is rising and the need for global solidarity to stop the violence is imperative, a task that New Delhi, with its traditionally balanced position on the issue, and its recent G-20 role in bridging global divides, would have been well suited to play. Every other country in the neighbourhood, in the extended BRICS grouping and much of the developing world, was part of the 120 countries that voted for the UNGA resolution on Friday. Regardless of its reasoning, New Delhi had other options which it overlooked or ignored. The resolution at the emergency special session entitled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” does include a paragraph “condemning all acts of violence aimed at Palestinian and Israeli civilians, including all acts of terrorism and indiscriminate attacks”. India could have played a prominent diplomatic role with countries proposing the resolution to ensure clearer mention of the October 7 attacks, including during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent conversation with Jordan’s King Abdullah bin Al Hussein about the conflict. India’s leadership of such an amendment may have fared better than the Canadian proposal that failed to secure two-thirds of the UNGA membership present. Alternatively, India could have voted for the motion, while recording in its Explanation of Vote (EoV) that it regretted the omissions of the specific references to the October 7 attacks, which is what France did. In its EoV, India did not itself name Hamas for the terror attacks, nor has it so far designated Hamas as a terror group, leaving some doubt about the explicit mentions that New Delhi had wanted. On the other hand, if India wanted to convey a strong line on fighting terrorism, it could have voted against the resolution, along with the U.S., the U.K. and Israel.
India’s abstention indicates a shift in the Modi government’s stand, seeking a ‘safe’ position, rather than taking a stand on the violence in Israel and Palestine. This is a departure from India’s UNGA vote in 2018 that called for Israel to cease “excessive force” in retaliatory strikes on Gaza at the time, and is more in line with its decision to abstain on votes at the UN in 2021 on resolutions critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The government lost an opportunity to make India’s voice heard in the growing geopolitical conflict. Abstaining on a matter of global importance without making efforts to forge a consensus is out of sync with a desire to be the voice of the Global South, or for a seat at the global high table.