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India's Dalveer Bhandari was today re-elected to the International Court of Justice with more than two-thirds of the UN members backing him, forcing Britain to withdraw its candidate amidst high drama in the hard-fought race to the world court.
In one of the country's "biggest diplomatic victories" in the multilateral arena, Bhandari received 183 of the 193 votes in the General Assembly and secured all 15 votes in the Security Council to fill the final vacancy on the Hague-based International Court of Justice after separate but simultaneous elections were held at the UN headquarters here.
Bhandari, 70, was declared re-elected for a fresh nine- year term at the ICJ after Britain withdrew its candidate Christopher Greenwood from the race about an hour before the scheduled voting.
According to observers, Bhandari's victory has sent a strong message to the leading powers about the winds of change in the world and underscored the point that India is now a force to reckon with.
The ICJ has a bench of 15 judges, five of whom are elected every three years for a nine-year term. To be elected, the candidate needed majority in both the chambers.
Established in 1945, the role of the ICJ is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by states and to give advisory opinions on legal questions.
Soon after the election results were announced, India's Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin was congratulated by representatives of other countries on the floor of the General Assembly.
"Vande Matram - India wins election to the International Court of Justice. JaiHind," tweeted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
In the previous 11 rounds of voting, Bhandari had consistently polled nearly two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly.
With Bhandari's election, Britain will not have a judge on the world court's 15-member panel for the first time.
Also for the first time in 70 years, a permanent member of the Security Council lost to a non-permanent member for a seat in the ICJ.
The British move to block voting in the Security Council and go for the joint consultation mechanism, which was last used some 96 years ago, also felt flat yesterday.
This is because, many of the Security Council members including some Permanent Members which were consistently supporting Britain in the secret ballot, backed off from voting in favour of the UK move to stop next rounds of voting as this required open voting, observers said.
"It is actually perhaps the biggest diplomatic victory we have in a multilateral arena," a long-time friend of India at the United Nations said.
In a dramatic move, British Permanent Representative to the UN Matthew Rycroft wrote identical letters to the presidents of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council before the two chambers were scheduled to meet at 3 pm (local time) for the 12th round of voting.
Rycroft said in his letter the current deadlock is unlikely to be broken by further rounds of voting and the UK therefore has decided to withdraw Greenwood's nomination.
"In taking this step, we have borne in mind the close relationship that the United Kingdom and India have always enjoyed and we will continue to enjoy...," Rycroft said.
Noting that Britain is a major player in the UN system, sources said the "signal to all the membership is clear that Indians are now a force to reckon with".
According to informed sources, three hours before the voting, General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak and Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi in his capacity as Security Council President for the month of November convened a consultative meeting with the Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN Rycroft and Akbaruddin.
India refused to budge against any kind of pressure and insisted to complete the democratic process, sources said.
It was unclear what transpired in the next two hours that forced Britain to withdraw from the race.
In Washington, US President Donald Trump in between had a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Indian- origin Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
It is learnt that many of the Britain's supporters at this point of time clearly told them that they would vote for Greenwood only in a secret ballot but could not be seen voting in open against India and that too at a time when two-thirds of the world community was backing New Delhi.
Reading the writing on the wall, Britain decided to withdraw from the race, sources said.
At the start of the General Assembly and the Security Council meeting both Lajcak and Cardi read similar letters from Rycroft informing them about UK's decision to withdraw from the race.
Thereafter Lajcak and Cardi announced to complete the rest of the election process by having the name of just Bhandari on the ballot. Soon Bhandari was declared elected.
In the last 10 days, it is learnt that India mounted an unprecedented diplomatic campaign to win the ICJ seat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is believed to have taken up the matter with some of the world leaders.