INDIA deserves a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council because it is the world's largest democracy, the second most populous nation, and a consistent contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, officials in New Delhi argue.
``If any country has a right to be on the Security Council, India does,'' says A.P. Venkateswaran, a former foreign secretary.
India is counting on the support of other developing nations, many of whom complain that the current makeup of the Security Council (Britain, France, Russia, China, and the United States) is heavily tilted toward rich, Western nations.
If Japan and Germany are given seats on the Council, that tilt, they argue, would increase further.
India wants the Security Council to more accurately reflect the world's population. ``If you want to keep a large population like India out of the Security Council, fine.... But will the UN be as democratic as it pretends to be, and will the policy decisions it makes represent the will of the nations?'' asks I.K. Gujral, member of Parliament from India's Janata Dal party.
Pranab Mukherjee, India's commerce secretary and head of its UN delegation, is expected to raise the issue when he addresses the General Assembly today.
The UN is humming with discussion of expansion, although such action is unlikely this year. But if and when the Council grows, India's bid for a seat on the Security Council will face many obstacles. India may be large and democratic but critics say it still lacks political and economic clout.
One UN official in New Delhi, who asked not to be identified, said India's chances of gaining a permanent seat on the Security Council ``are as far away as Jupiter's moons.''
India's political rival, Pakistan, has said it would try to block any bid by New Delhi for a seat. It claims India has ignored UN resolutions on the diputed province of Kashmir and refuses to accept UN mediation in the dispute.
``If India was indeed a responsible country, it would not have this kind of a dismissive attitude toward an institution of which it wants to now become a permanent member,'' says Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan's ambassador in New Delhi.
The United States, which is actively sponsoring Japan and Germany's bid for seats on the Security Council, is more circumspect when it comes to India's prospects.
``We are wide open to the possibility of adding a modest number of other states,'' said Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, during a visit to New Delhi in April. ``But I think it's premature to talk about which states they might be.''
In their push for a Security Council seat, Indian diplomats in New York point out that India is one of the biggest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions. During the past 40 years, Indian troops have participated in 16 such missions, from Cambodia to Angola. Currently, more than 5,000 Indian troops serve in peacekeeping missions around the world. India has committed 700 troops for the Rwandan operation. In Somalia, Indian troops make up more than one-quarter of all UN forces.
During a visit to New Delhi last month, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali praised India for its contribution. As peacekeeping missions grow more dangerous, Mr. Boutros-Ghali said, ``member states are increasingly reluctant to provide troops.''
India has proved an exception, sending troops to even the most dangerous missions. On Aug. 22, seven Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush in Somalia, and on Aug. 31 three Indian doctors were killed in the Somali town of Baidoa.
But after those incidents, the India quickly reassured the UN that it would not pull out of the peacekeeping mission.
Some Indian opposition parties, however, believe that Indian troops should not remain in dangerous UN missions that Western nations, including the US, have abandoned.
``I don't see any reason why India should stick its neck out in areas where its interests are not involved,'' says Mr. Gujral of the opposition Janata Dal. ``We have already paid the price for this adventurism.''