NEW DELHI: It was a veto by the United States that ended Indian nominee Shashi Tharoor's run for the top job at the United Nations.
Conceding defeat to South Korean rival Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday, India's official nominee for the UN secretary-general's post bowed out of the race after the fourth straw poll in the Security Council also gave Moon the thumbs up.
Tharoor's withdrawal did not come as a surprise as a veto by any one of the permanent members of the council seals a candidate's fate. Initial speculation in New Delhi about the issuer of the veto veered between the US and China. But it was later confirmed that Washington had tripped Tharoor.
Despite the growing warmth in India's relations with the US, the Bush administration decided not to back New Delhi's choice. But Washington had never given India any false hope. It is well known that the administration is not very happy with the incumbent, Kofi Annan. That Tharoor is an Annan protégé worked against him.
US officials had made it clear at various forums that they don't want a UN insider for the job because such a person would resist changes Washington has been pushing.
"Tharoor took the right decision to withdraw from the contest," said former UN undersecretary-general Virendra Dayal.
"It is a dignified exit," he said. Dayal said the election was not a popularity contest. "One could be the most popular candidate and still lose," he said.
"These elections are enigmatic and no one is sure until the chips fall, in this case a veto from one of the Permanent Five." Dayal said elections at the UN have to do with big power politics and relations between countries.
He said it is also wrong to see this as a vote against India. "This is not a reflection of India's clout or popularity in the comity of nations."
But the fact that India's nominee was rejected by the US indicates that despite the recent progress, uneasiness about New Delhi remains. Questions are now being raised about India's wisdom in contesting the election. Backing Tharoor was a last-minute decision made by the Prime Minister's office, with the external affairs ministry kept out of the loop.
In May, New Delhi had said it would not contest the election. The suggestion was that a country that aspires to be a permanent member of the council does not contest such an election. But the very next month India announced Tharoor's candidature.
Nobody is sure why New Delhi decided to back Tharoor, especially because there was no clear signal from Washington. For the country, except for a good feeling that an Indian national heads the world body, there would have been no tangible benefit. The very nature of the job makes it difficult for the secretary-general to take sides on vital issues.