Letter from New Delhi
Heads of diplomatic missions for five of the 173 foreign missions in New Delhi from the Indian diaspora are now posted back to India. Of Indian origin, their fathers or forefathers went abroad and now they have been posted to represent their countries in India. Right now, the heads of missions of Australia, Canada, Fiji, Mauritius and USA are of Indian origin. Significantly, all these countries have a sizeable Indian population.
When Ms. Harinder Sidhu presented her credentials to President Pranab Mukherjee as Australia’s High Commissioner to India, she joined two other western heads of mission of Indian origin in New Delhi: Ambassador Richard R. Verma of the United States (until 20 January 2017) and High Commissioner Nadir Patel of Canada.
Australia sets the precedent
A western power being represented in India in any capacity by a non-Anglo Saxon/Celtic was unthinkable just 20 odd years ago until Australia broke the mould by appointing Rakesh Ahuja, India born, as Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to New Delhi.
“It served as a precedent for other western governments; today Indian origin diplomats abound in their missions in New Delhi. They would do well to give credit to the Australian Foreign Service for initiating a multicultural presence in the western diplomatic corps long before it became the norm in India (or elsewhere),” said Ahuja.
Ms Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner has an Indian background; she migrated to Australia as a child with her family from Singapore. A senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ms Sidhu has also served as First Assistant Secretary of the Multilateral Policy Division. She holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Economics degrees from the University of Sydney. She previously served overseas in Moscow and Damascus.
Sidhu, who speaks a little Punjabi and Hindi, said, “India is one of the most exciting places for a diplomat to be at the moment. India’s economic prospects are bright and it is becoming a more influential and active international player.’’ Sidhu added, “Both sides of my family are from the Punjab – my father was born in India.” New Delhi will also help her fulfil her passion for Bollywood movies. “The first movie I remember watching as a child was Brahmachari, it starred Shammi Kapoor and Mumtaz, and I’ve been hooked ever since,’’ she went on.
Richard Verma from USA returns to father’s land
Until 20 January 2017, Richard Verma is the US Ambassador to India. Ambassador Richards’ parents — father KD Verma of Apra village in Jalandhar and mother Gayatri Devi of Chayam Mohalla — had migrated to Canada around 50 years ago. “My mother was born in what is today Pakistan… she was a product of the Partition… as her and her family would resettle in Northern India shortly after 1947. It was a violent and unsettled time. My father was the only literate person in his family. He would be imprisoned as a teenager for protesting against British occupation. My mother, this young girl from a village in Pakistan, would go on to get her master’s degree. And my dad would get his PhD, and become the first person in his family who could read and write.”
Talking about how his father came to the United State in 1963 with only 24 dollars and his mother and other four siblings came to the US later, he recounted the hard times saying, “The times were hard. We had no money. The kids could be mean in school to this new immigrant family. But they persevered.” Verma was raised in Western Pennsylvania and is the youngest of five kids.
Verma began his career in the US Air Force where he served an officer in the US Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps and won two military honours for his work which were the Meritorious Service Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal.
India born Nadir Patel, now Canadian Envoy
Nadir Patel, who was born in Gujarat, migrated with his parents to Canada when he was young. He speaks Gujarati at home. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Wilfrid Laurier University, 1993; MBA, New York University, London School of Economics and Political Science and HEC Paris, 2009.
He began his career in 1990 at the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, serving in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa and Montréal. From 1997 to 2003, he served as departmental assistant to the minister, director of ministerial services, agency adviser to the minister and secretary to the Board of Management.
In 2003, he transferred to the Privy Council Office, serving as chief of staff to the national security advisor to the prime minister, associate secretary to the Cabinet, and deputy minister to the deputy prime minister.
From 2005 to 2006, he served as senior policy adviser to the clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. In 2006, he was appointed by the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of Transport as Canada’s chief air negotiator. Mr Patel served as Consul General in Shanghai from 2009 to 2011.
Until recently he served as assistant deputy minister for corporate planning, finance and information technology, and as chief financial officer at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Mr Patel succeeds Stewart Beck.
In the past he has served as Canada’s Consul General in Shanghai between 2009 and 2011. He was also part of the team that helped launch the Commission of Inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182. In an earlier capacity as Canada’s Chief Air Negotiator, Mr Patel travelled to 35 countries over three years and negotiated 43 international airspace treaties
“I am not the only ambassador for Canada in India relations, each and every one of those 1.2 million individuals are ambassadors, or a brand, because they speak about cultural linkages, business linkages, Government-to-Government linkages, student linkages,” he said answering a question from Indian Empire magazine that asked about Canadian Indians as Canada is home to over 1.2 million Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) who comprise more than 3 per cent of the country’s population.
“My appointment here was first and foremost because I am Canadian and I am a diplomat. Being of Indian heritage and speaking the language are assets, and I think they reflect Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism,” he added.
“It gives an extra edge and extra bonus. I converse with Prime Minister Modi in Gujarati and I am proud of my Indian heritage. Besides, I am familiar with India and its people, and opportunities it offers even before I was appointed as the envoy. I have travelled to India over 15 times during the past two decades,” he told Economic Times.
The latest Canadian election saw an unprecedented 19 persons of Indian origin being represented, of which four are in the Cabinet including a Sikh holding a Defence portfolio.
Fiji High Commissioner, Ms Namita Khatri
She began her diplomatic career as second secretary to Fiji’s Mission to the European Communities and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Belgium in 2006 where she was responsible for providing advice on trade matters in line with Fiji’s development interests.
HC Khatri was then seconded to serve as the Deputy Head of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group in Geneva in 2010.
She has also served as First Secretary in Fiji’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York in 2012 before being appointed as Deputy Permanent Representative in 2014.
Prior to her appointment as High Commissioner, Ms Khatri served as Deputy Permanent Representative in Fiji’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva in September 2014.
HC Khatri completed her Bachelor of Social Sciences from the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand in 2000 and then did her Postgraduate Diploma (History/Politics) from the University of the South Pacific.
She has also completed her Masters of Arts in International Relations from the Australian National University and post graduate qualification in WTO Trade Law from the TMC Asser Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
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