India’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which does not support the West’s strident line, has attracted a lot of commentary, from explanations rooted in history and geopolitical realism to the country’s pressing economic and security interests. Consequently, the West has been considerate in understanding India’s predicaments, providing New Delhi the space to uphold its longstanding relationship with Moscow and simultaneously further its growing ties with western capitals. A similar consideration is unlikely to be available to India for its recent vote on the Xinjiang issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, allowing China to barely avoid embarrassing public scrutiny.
Last week’s draft resolution on “holding a debate on the situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China,” presented by a core group consisting of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, was rejected in the 47-member council. New Delhi was one of the 11 abstentions, with no explanatory statement for its vote at the council. A day later, an Indian foreign-ministry spokesperson stated that India had taken note of the assessment of human-rights concerns in Xinjiang and hoped that “the relevant party will address the situation objectively and properly.” He justified the abstention as being “in line with our long-held position that country-specific resolutions are never helpful. India favours a dialogue to deal with such issues.”
The ministry’s excuse is not borne by facts. During this Geneva meeting itself, India voted on two country-specific resolutions, on Ethiopia and Afghanistan. In 2012 and 2013, India voted on resolutions in the council against Sri Lanka on war crimes. Moreover, the idea that the current ultra-nationalist government led by Narendra Modi is dictated by precedents of the past militates against the regime’s fundamental premise of establishing a “New India” by discarding past practices. Two and a half years after losing control over territory to China in the contested Ladakh region, with Beijing unequivocally refusing to revert to the situation as it existed before April 2020, the situation is unprecedented enough to throw precedence—if one existed—out of the window.