Opening the Doors to Diplomacy


New Consul General of India to Melbourne Raj Kumar spells out his priorities as he assumes office

It has been a little over a week since Raj Kumar, the new Consul General of India (CGI) to Melbourne assumed office. The chill of the winters here is a sharp contrast to India’s hot summers but Kumar is on an adjustment mode. “Two months before or two months after would have been perfect,” he laughs, as he sits down with The Indian Weekly to share some of his thoughts on his new assignment.

Prior to coming to Melbourne, Kumar was posted in Jalalabad (Afghanistan), considered one of the challenging postings in the Indian Foreign Service. In Melbourne as CGI with the jurisdiction of Victoria and Tasmania, Kumar aims to strengthen the relations between two countries, especially between India and Victoria and India and Tasmania. Importantly, Kumar also wants the large number of students present in Victoria to register themselves with the consulate.

With over 33 years’ of service in the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Kumar, a Commerce Graduate from University of Delhi, has served in different capacities at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi as well as in Indian diplomatic missions in Libya, Malaysia, Kenya, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Panama, Sri Lanka and Jalalabad.
His diplomatic assignments include administrative and diplomatic work covering political, commercial, consular and cultural desks in Indian Missions. He also worked as Head of Office at the Office of the High Commission of India, Lagos (Nigeria), Charge d’Affairs in Embassy of India, Panama and Consul General at Consulate General of India, Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Consulate General of India Jalalabad (Afghanistan). He is married to Usha Shakya and they have two daughters. In conversation with Kumar.

What do you intend to introduce into the Indo-Australian relationship?
My experience with Australia is new. I always wanted to come to this part of the world and the continent for the first time. Now I have got the opportunity to be in a place which is the most liveable city in the world. So, it feels wonderful and I am looking forward to my tenure here.
Indian-Australian relationship is outstanding at the moment. We have very good relations with Australia. We have exchanged visits. Last year, the President of India Ram Nath Kovind visited Australia. In 2014, then Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott visited India, the same year Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited Australia. These visits have taken the Indo-Australian friendship to a newer dimension and there are lots of things that go with these visits such as signing of a lot of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in different areas. This excellent relationship would grow further in future.

As the new CGI, what do you see as your primary role?
The role of a diplomat is to bring two countries closer. My aim is to serve my nation, my countrymen here and Australia in general. We have around 50,000 students in my consular jurisdiction in Victoria and Tasmania. My primary responsibility is to look after them well, in case they have any problem, they can reach me anytime. Our doors are open 24/7 for any Indian who has a problem. Through this medium I would like to request all Indians, particularly students who have come to this country, to register with us. If we have their information, we can reach out to them easily. There are many students who have not registered with us and in case they need assistance, it will be very difficult for us to reach out to them in absence of their contact details.

What made you decide a career in diplomacy?
To be honest when I submitted my application for the competition, I was not aware of what the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) entailed. I saw it as Videsh Sewa (foreign service) and kept that as my number one preference. Later on, when I joined the service, I realised it was the prime service as far as Government of India is concerned at that time. The IFS is a wonderful service where you can serve the nation not only in India, but you can do whatever you want to do for the nation from outside India. To bring people of two nations closer – that is a great responsibility.

What has been the most rewarding aspects of your work so far?
Prior to this posting I was in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. We have four missions in that country. Afghanistan is considered one of the challenging postings as far as Indian missions/foreign service are concerned. And within Afghanistan itself, Jalalabad is the toughest posting. The Jalalabad Mission was opened in 2002 and the Mission building suffered two attacks. Fortunately, our people survived. From the security point of view, it was not that safe. My first priority in Jalalabad was to change the chancery. Getting a new accommodation in that environment was very difficult and it took me about 10-11 months to move from the current location to the new one. So, the new chancery is in a good, secure location with better facilities and much cheaper. I feel that was one of my biggest achievements; it is a country where you cannot go out of your chancery without security cover. I was also advised not to move out but after seeing the conditions of my security personnel, I decided to find a good living area for them and was successful in that. I am satisfied that before leaving Jalalabad, the mission was shifted to a safer, new location.

How does your past experience affect your outlook as new CGI to Melbourne?
My past experience will be used to develop new relationships between India and Australia and particularly India and Victoria and Tasmania. I have worked in many missions and got lots of experience, but this mission is different for me. We have a large number of Indian diaspora and we have to fulfil the requirements of the diaspora and serve them. Our doors are opened for any problem with regard to visas, passports and other consular services. Our consulate staff has also been rendering the services of emergency cases regularly from a long time. Last Friday, I received a call from somebody I don’t know, sadly he had a tragedy in his family and he wanted visa immediately. I advised my officer to attend to that query and the visa was immediately granted.
Also, I would like to appeal to the people of Indian origin who have acquired the nationality of this country that they should apply for the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card and not wait for visas. The government of India has already introduced the e-visa system. But if they get the OCI card, that would be much better as they won’t need visas anymore.

What specific priorities do you have?
I have yet to fix the priorities. It has just been a week since I am here. Right now, I am carrying on with where my predecessors left off. But my job is, as I said, to serve the nation, the people, and those people who need assistance from India. That is my objective as of now.

What can the Indian community expect from CGI’s office?
My doors are open 24X7 in case of emergency. Anybody can reach me anytime. There is no restriction at all. I am new and I would like to get the views of the Indian diaspora too on how to develop the relationship between the diaspora and India better. I look forward to making the relationship much better.

What are your first impressions of Melbourne in particular and Australia in general?
Australia is a developed country and Melbourne is a lively city from the videos I have watched on internet. With regards to weather, I must say I have arrived at a contrast time where in India the temperature now is around 45 and it is freezing here. Had I come two months before or two months after I would have enjoyed more. At the moment, I am still struggling with the climatic condition. I have not yet explored the city or the state because I am still in the process of settling in. I would like to explore more and more and need the support of my Indian diaspora.

What are your other interests?
I like sports, but I don’t play any sport in particular. I like cricket and given a chance would like to watch it, and other games too. I am pure vegetarian and Indian food is my passion and, thankfully, that is not a matter of concern here in Melbourne. I enjoy movies and I look forward to the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.

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(As told to The Indian Weekly)