Indian envoy to UK retires after a ‘roller-coaster ride’ : India
Ruchi Ghanashyam, who was only the second woman Indian high commissioner to the UK since independence when she took over in December 2018, has retired and is leaving for home this week after a term she described as a “roller-coaster ride” on Monday.
The first woman to hold the top job in India House was Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, from 1954 to 1961. For 57 years, London waited for another woman high commissioner, and then two come along. Ghanashyam is to be succeeded by Gaitri Issar Kumar, ambassador in Belgium.
Ghanashyam’s short term was busy: General elections were held in India and the UK, besides prolonged debates over Brexit with hopes of a free trade deal with India, and now the coronavirus pandemic that left thousands of Indians stranded in the UK.
Speaking to members of the Indian Journalists Association (established May 1947 by video-link, Ghanashyam said: “There was never a dull moment. We came across many challenges but they could be addressed with the help of our large diaspora”.
The attack on the mission on August 15, 2019, when a large crowd protesting against changes made by New Delhi in the federal structure of Jammu and Kashmir, was a “traumatic experience” for her, when additional police were called to rescue people trapped.
“The situation could have been more traumatic, but we managed to get the Indians who had come to celebrate Independence Day into the building”, she said, recalling events of the day, that snowballed into a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Ghanashyam also made headlines for “jhadu diplomacy”, for taking up the broom and mop to clean sections of the heritage building and the pavement in the Strand that were sullied by eggs and projectiles hurled by protestors on September 3.
It has been possible to deal with the challenge of dealing with thousands of stranded Indians, she said, due to the large diaspora. Many individuals and groups across the UK came forward to arrange their stay and extended medical and other assistance.
“People here have been very welcoming, shows how well the person who holds the office of Indian high commissioner is regarded. There are multiple aspects of our engagement with the UK, but our biggest strength is the large diaspora”, she said.
Ghanashyam’s predecessor, Y K Sinha, was appointed information commissioner in New Delhi after retiring. After a career in diplomacy, Ghanashyam remained diplomatically silent as journalists mentioned the possibility of a new assignment beckoning her back home.