It surprised many international relations observers and Indian foreign policy analysts when India voted against the US decision of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. India was one of the 128 nations which voted against the US decision to make it “null and void” at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on 21st December.

The decision was overwhelmingly in support of Palestine where only 9 countries including US and Israel voted against the majority vote, while India showed its long time commitment to the Palestinian cause. Before the vote, speculations were rife that India might abstain from voting in resolution, an option which was used by no less than 35 countries including states like Australia and Canada.

India’s move was certainly not irrational or a blunder as put by people like Subramanian Swamy who has slammed this decision made by Government of India. The argument which he and many like him are making is that while “Palestine has never supported India on Kashmir question and Islamic terror attacks, Israel on the other hand have always stood with India”.

With Indo-Israeli relations gaining momentum over the last few years, especially with PM Modi’s visit to Israel earlier this year and India’s growing proximity with US as a coalition partner in ‘Quad’, few would have thought that India will vote against US and Israel. But international relations is a complex game based on many permutations and combinations.

India being an emerging power in the international system could not have taken the risk of voting against the overwhelming majority of the comity of nations, many of whom are India’s strategic partners. India’s geo-economic interests lie with many countries of middle-east which are India’s major suppliers of oil, gas and energy. For India to have voted against the prevailing sentiment, would have unnecessarily strained the relations with many of these countries, who support the Palestinian cause greatly.

In foreign policy, a country has to make ‘calculated’ moves and India’s vote at UNGA was an example of such a move. In international relations, it’s always better to be on the side of majority because it is there where a country’s ‘interests’ lie generally. The argument of India to have abstained from voting is a flawed one. Being a ‘middle power’ in the international system with the ambitions of becoming a powerhouse in South Asian region as a counter weight to China, India could not have abstained from voting.

At this juncture it becomes important to look at the list of countries that either voted for Israel or abstained from voting. In both the lists, one couldn’t find the name of any ‘major power’ in the international system. Even a country like Japan which is a major ally of US didn’t abstain from voting. All the permanent members of UN Security Council except US, voted against Israel.

India’s decision to vote against Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s capital is a part of India playing a larger role as a member of the international community which felt overwhelmingly on an issue. When international community takes such resounding decisions, bilateral relations more often than not take a back seat.

This is what has happened in India’s case. India’s vote should not be seen as India drifting away from either Israel or US. Bilateral relations has its own place in a country’s foreign policy but when it comes to making a choice, sometimes countries have to take ‘hard decisions’ which may not appear ‘glamorous’ to large masses at that point but these decisions are crucial for a nation in the long run.

To sum up, India’s vote at UNGA is a marker of maturity and rationality on its part. While it reflects India’s firm standing on crucial issues like Palestine, it also shows that foreign policies are not changed just like that.