Hardeep Singh Puri, 60, the Indian ambassador to the United Nations, has announced his retirement, which will take effect at the end of February. Ashoke Mukherji, The Times of India reported, is likely to be Puri’s replacement at the UN. Puri has been ambassador to the UN since 2009. He led the country through its two-year term as a nonpermanent member on the Security Council, from 2011-2012, and was a chairman of the council’s counterterrorism unit. The country last held a council seat in 1992.
Puri’s retirement may open the way for his wife, Lakshmi Puri, the deputy executive director of UN Women, to lobby actively for the director post of the agency should Michelle Bachelet resign to run for president of Chile this year. Lakshmi Puri is also a former Indian diplomat.
In January, India donated $1 million to UN Women for the 2012- 2013 financial year, the third installment of the country’s multiyear pledge of $5 million to the agency’s core fund, leaving $2 million remaining.
India’s role on the Security Council under Puri’s leadership was marked by its alliance with global South interests; it was also deemed a test run, of sorts, for a permanent seat on the council, which it has desired for decades.
The global South alignment was not part of an Indian-Washington D.C. correspondence in April 2009, days after Puri was appointed India’s permanent representative to the UN. At the time, a senior official from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs wrote to an American diplomat about Puri’s new position. In a Wikileaks cable, the Indian official said that Puri “declared his specific brief is to seek ways to increase U.S.-India engagement to get to a ‘higher degree of convergence’ between our two nations.”
The official also said that Puri was keen to see India and the United States “to be seen working together” and that “regarding expansion of permanent seats on the UN Security Council, Puri admitted he is still learning about the reform process and waiting to hear the views of the new Obama administration, but stressed that his starting point is, ‘if you want the Security Council to have credibility, then it is better to have India within it.’ “
US President Obama, in a speech in 2010, said he endorsed the notion of India’s becoming a permanent member of the council, reviving a possibility broached by the George W. Bush administration. (Britain, China, France, the US and Russia are the permanent members.) Obama’s support seems to have waned, as little movement to push for India has occurred. Moreover, India, which possesses nuclear weapons, has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while Obama has advocated for nuclear disarmament.
Perhaps India’s biggest public declaration against the West at the Security Council under Puri’s leadership was its abstention on the vote for UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in 2011, authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya after Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s murderous acts against his own people. India’s abstention was joined by Brazil, China, Germany and Russia. (Brazil, India and Germany are all aspiring for a permanent seat on the council.)
India’s test run on the council appears to have failed in some views. Rohan Mukherjee, a Ph.D. student at Princeton, wrote on the matter recently for the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. Analysts, he said, found that India did not play a “constructive role” on the council but instead took a “spectator” stance at best and was a “spoiler” at worst.
“The question turned on the issue of humanitarian intervention, or the use of military force to save civilians from systematic human rights abuses within states,” he wrote. “Critics pointed to Delhi’s intransigence during severe crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria.”