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The 77th session in September of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was the first with many attendees convening in person after the onset of the covid pandemic. The role of the UNGA is to discuss (and offer advice on) matters of international relations and policy. India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said that this time, many countries mentioned India in their speeches, which showed the country’s strong and increasing relevance at the UN (bit.ly/3zpB6By). For foreign policy, it is necessary to understand how India is perceived at global forums. In the latest session, ‘United Nations’ and ‘international’ were the most mentioned words by non-Indian leaders in their speeches, followed by ‘countries’ and ‘world’ and ‘peace’. This article aims to look at how India has been spoken about in the UNGA by analysing the corpus (bit.ly/3DKbli0) of texts of General Debate statements from 1970 (Session 25) to 2020 (Session 75). The words included in this analysis are ‘India’, ‘India’s’ and ‘Indians’.

Let us look at how many times India was mentioned by non-Indian leaders from 1970 to 2020. The year with highest mentions in UNGA debates was 1971, while the one with the least was 1975. For a detailed analysis, we divide the time period of 1970-2020 into three intervals: 1970-1990, 1991-2010 and 2011-2020.

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Calls for peace: During the 1970-1990 period, there was a major peak in mentions. India was mentioned as many as 161 times in 1971, the year of an India-Pakistan war. The war was a major event in Indian history that carved out the independent nation of Bangladesh and defined India’s emerging role in foreign politics. It was a huge military victory for New Delhi and proclaimed India as an emerging power in South Asia. Countries that spoke about the war extensively talked about matters concerning refugees and improving relations between the two adversaries. A lot of mentions even in the later years were related to the 1971 war, its impact and how peace must be promoted for the reconciliation of the two subcontinental nations. It must also be noted that India wasn’t a big economy at that time, so some mentions could also have been made without much economic consideration.

Tragedies, tests and then a thriving economy: In the 1991-2010 phase, India was mentioned 83 times in 1993 because of the Latur earthquake. Leaders expressed their sympathy for people who were impacted because of the quake and appealed for necessary support to be provided. After a decline for some years, the most mentions (86 times) in this interval came at the time of India’s Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998, which also happens to be the year of the second most mentions in the entire half century of 1970-2020. Broadly, speakers from various countries condemned these tests and urged India to go for disarmament and sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The three main objectives (bit.ly/3NiJE2P) of the 1998 nuclear tests were to validate new designs, declare India as a nuclear-weapon state and generate an acceptance of India as a responsible state. The tests asserted India’s rising position. After another decline, there was a shift in the way India was talked about in the UNGA thereafter. In contrast to the earlier years when India was mentioned in unfavourable contexts, positive mention of India starting from around the mid-2000s. While some countries in 2005, for example, conveyed their support for India on being considered for permanent membership for the UN Security Council, in 2008 leaders lauded India’s growth and membership of BRICS.

Towards a Solidified Presence: The most recent period under analysis, 2011-2020, saw India frequently brought up in UNGA speeches. Many of these mentions have been positive. India’s name began being taken constantly alongside those of bigger economies, thereby showing a change in its importance. Many of these mentions cited India as an example of a fast-growing nation. While numerous countries mentioned India with the aim of fostering close international ties and maintaining good relations, some also lauded India for its development and leadership. Except for 2019, when the Pulwama attack took place and India responded, there has been a change in how India is being talked about at the UN. It is mostly in a positive light.

Who is talking the most about India and how? : In addition to looking at how many times India is mentioned, it is also important to see which countries mention India the most, and what words are most used when the country is talked about. A graph of this reveals a skewed distribution when it to comes to countries that talk about India. The difference in mentions between the highest (Pakistan with 590 mentions) and second highest (Bhutan with 56) is truly vast. India and Pakistan’s adversarial and ever-changing relations throughout the past half century are the cause of such a sharp skew.

For the context, the analysis looked at four words spoken before and after a mention of ‘India’. The word cloud generated by this shows that the single word most heavily associated with India in the UNGA was ‘Pakistan’, which can be attributed to the long history shared by both. Alongside, other nations like Japan, Brazil and China have been mentioned alongside India, which could be explained by India’s growing engagement with other economies.

India has been on a long road of growth and marked its presence on the world’s most prominent global platform over the years. In the 1970s, when India was only mentioned in times of conflict and calamity, there has been a shift over the years, especially in the last decade, with India being talked about and lauded for the path of progress it has taken. What is also important to note is how India’s position in the current Russia-Ukraine war has been steadfast and consistent. This testifies that India has managed to make a mark internationally.

New Delhi has been highlighting the need for dialogue and diplomacy (bit.ly/3fgRGwx) globally. With appropriate domestic and foreign policies, India’s international presence will continue to grow in the years to come.

Jayati Sharma & Sahil Deo are, respectively, a research assistant at CPC Analytics and a co-founder of CPC Analytics.

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