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The Great Indian Hope
Jayantha Dhanapala, Sri Lankan candidate who withdrew from the contest for the post of UN secretary-general after finishing near the bottom in straw polls, has said that India's fielding of Shashi Tharoor acted as "spoiler" to his chances.
"The fact that they (Indians) waited until quite late in the process to announce Tharoor's candidature was unfortunate, and it was certainly seen as a spoiler to my own candidature," he told Lanka Monthly Digest in an interview.
Replying to a question, he said Sri Lanka received considerable adverse international publicity at the time because of the ongoing conflict with the Tamil Tigers.
It was "disproportionate and not commensurate" with the situation in other parts of the world, he said.
"There was, for example, continuing haemorrhaging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and other parts of India experiencing Naxalite movements," he claimed.
"Sri Lanka, sadly, continues to attract a lot of publicity, and I think that also was a negative factor," he added. But he also admitted that Western countries did not "appear" to have voted for him, and gave his posture on nuclear disarmament as the reason for their decision.
"I have adopted a very honest position on nuclear disarmament and I have no regrets whatsoever, on that. The countries that voted to discourage me came from NATO and they must have feared I would take an activist position on nuclear
disarmament, had I become secretary-general. They didn't realise that, as secretary-general, I would have had to divorce my personal views from those of the UN," he said.
Another reason he gave for his defeat was the lack of Sri Lanka's economic muscle where the South Koreans scored.
Dhanapala, who was among the first to announce his candidacy, said at an early stage, Sri Lanka approached its South Asian neighbours and India was the only country they detected lack of enthusiasm.
"It was never articulated as to why this was so. Had it been expressed, we could have discussed it with our Indian colleagues," he said.
"It was always rumoured that Shashi Tharoor had harboured the ambition and intention of running for the post. I believe that was one of the factors preventing the Indians from endorsing me. It could have been awkward if Tharoor had sought the sponsorship of another country," he said.
"Many countries had asked us directly, at an early stage, what India's attitude was to my candidature. We were unable to produce the endorsement that the Thais had from ASEAN in respect of their candidate. If we had a South Asian consensus on my candidature, or on anyone else's candidature, I think that would have helped the region. South-East Asia had already been represented in this post through what was then Burma, and it would have been logical for us to claim that it was South Asia's turn," he added.
But he rejected suggestions that his age was a factor in his defeat, describing it as a "red herring," and cited the case of Boutros Boutros Ghali who had assumed the office when he was older than him.
"As far as the Western group was concerned, it could also be that Sri Lanka is not a big investor internationally or a huge market for products. In this globalised world -- in the same way that China was influenced to acquiesce vis-a-vis a Korean candidate -- many Western candidates were more enticed by economic benefits than by the individual merits of a candidate. Nor did they consider my potential to lift the UN from its present state of ineffectiveness and the bad reputation it has acquired," he added.
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