Who wrote the 'Ivy League of terrorism' rebuttal that demolished Pakistan's anti-India rant at the UNGA?
A “brainstrust” of 5 senior staffers sitting around Syed Akbaruddin's desk on the 4th floor of India's permanent mission to the US in New York's East 43rd St put their heads together to write up the 513 word stinger that has broken free from the trap of knotty officialese while Pakistan errs on the other extreme with cuckoo outbursts at its annual whine fest in New York City.
Syed Akbaruddin, a 1985 batch IFS officer, is India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations - the boss in the New York outpost.
The applause for India's strident tone, content and the brevity of the rebuttal on September 21 has been stirring.
Word cloud for People Like Us
“Deception”, “deceit”, “lies”, “terrorism”, “toxic curriculum”, “sermons”, “preaching” - the word cloud from India’s rap taps into the collective loathing Indians feel about Pakistan’s web of lies. No wonder then that the Eenam Gambhir slam dunk is taking a dizzy ride on social media platforms.
The way politics is practised is changing everywhere - where truth and evidence are of secondary importance and popular trust in established institutions has crashed. By slamming Pakistan’s baloney so hard on the world stage, India is responding to the change in how audiences consume foreign policy and meeting them where they are, in language that is evocative yet blunt, something that appeals to outliers who are shunning elitism in droves.
Short attention spans have been fully factored in - a 500 worder for a Pakistan pushback is as good as it gets.
Four hours from start to finish
"It took 4 and a half hours from start to finish, after Nawaz Sharif spoke," a top official at India's UN mission told Firstpost in a detailed off the record conversation.
They’re not telling who came up with the coolest line of the one pager - “Ivy League of terrorism”. “We don’t want to go into that but when we did come up with it, we knew we had a winner.”
These five people are drawn from the inner circle at the mission here and “of course, we consulted Capital ( New Delhi)” while the draft got polished to a sparkle.
Who chose Eenam Gambhir?
What about the choice of Eenam Gambhir? Who took that call? The same person who played big daddy for the theme of the stern rejoinder settled on Gambhir as a natural choice.
"That decision (of Gambhir speaking) was taken well before we finished writing this. We wanted to make a few things very clear. Whoever speaks for us speaks for India. There's no question of seniority here. So we chose our youngest officer and anyway, she has been working on this. It's her area.”
But the Gambhir read-out is not the starter piece for this new hauteur. That happened in July when Syed Akbaruddin took a meat cleaver to tear into Pakistan’s misuse of the UN forum — “…Pakistan; a country that covets the territory of others; a country that uses terrorism as state policy towards that misguided end; a country that extols the virtues of terrorists and that provides sanctuary to UN-designated terrorists.”
The approach has been consistent now at least for the last few months - Akbaruddin pitched tent in New York early this year.
New style sheet
A top diplomat who oversaw the latest India offensive to the last detail admits there is a deliberate change in style. “Diplomacy has to reach audiences spead across wide swathes of the world, not just Indians in a limited sphere of operation,” he said.
That approach is now being hard wired into the content creation at the mission - “sharper statements, smaller sentences, not long winded”.
Incidentally, media and communication as an academic discipline are not new for Syed Akbaruddin - his father headed the journalism department at Osmania University for many years and later the research wing at FTII Pune too. Akbaruddin inks every official communication from the mission and so too for India’s reply at UNGA.
That there is very little traction for Pakistan adds to India’s confidence in these recent maneovers.
“If they want to come to the United Nations and talk about India, we will do what we have to do. Our default position is that this has to be sorted out bilaterally, however if you (Pakistan) bring this to the UN, we have a counter narrative ready which is stronger,” says the official.
Every paragraph of the India counter has at least one mention of the word terrorism — this was a consensus among the group of five.
“In 5 minutes of time, you can’t put in too much. It’s not a general debate statement. If we had too many themes, it would lose its bite, so we were clear that we keep it short and everything we did with the rebuttal was a conscious choice.”
That includes the language, target audience, end game, closure and the choice of a woman to speak for India.
Apart from being chosen for being the youngest, Gambhir as the woman factor was strategy, not randomness.
“They (Pakistan) talked about women and all that bluster, we said chalo, we’ll send a woman in reply. The optics are not lost on us. We got it right. The whole world could see that the bullies were watching while Gambhir spoke."
"It wasn’t like - achcha bhai, kisi ko bhi bhej do. “We know exactly what our messaging was and how to deliver it for maximum effect. This is the voice a much more confident India, the official said.
That Pakistan uses the UN forum time and again to spin a tangled web of falsities does not impress the folks at India’s mission to the UN.
“That they can come up with speeches like this and we all know that it finds no resonance - it means there’s something terribly wrong with their diplomacy,” the official said.
Like others, India’s top officials at the mission here know that Pakistan’s wacko stance at UNGA is a reflection of the state of domestic politics. “They have a town with two sheriffs, so the way they turn out at world forums mirrors the contradictions within.”
To fittingly answer politicians messing around in a global sandbox with assertions that have no basis in fact, India may have just found a new currency of rebuke - emotion, in short form.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to raise the terror attacks in Uri and Pathankot in her speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) most likely on September 26.
That’s up next.