Indian diplomacy in Washington presents a new elegant face

May 23rd, 2009 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 23 (IANS) The face of Indian diplomacy in Washington underwent a change this week as Meera Shankar, the second Indian woman envoy to the US, presented her credentials to the first black American President Barack Obama.

Following a three and a half year stint as Indian envoy in Germany, career diplomat Shankar follows in the footsteps of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1949-1952), sister of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In between, there have been 60 long years of a succession of politicians and pin-striped bureaucrats.

A White House car brought Shankar, 58, her husband and daughter to the presidential mansion a little before 3 p.m. Wednesday. Received by the protocol officials, she was then escorted to the fabled Oval office that has become symbolic of the power and prestige of the US presidency.

Standing there before his Resolute desk, made from the timbers of British ship HMS Resolute, which has been used by most presidents since 1880, Obama - in a dark blue suit and a red tie - greeted Shankar with a warm smile.

The ambassador - who served as minister (commerce) at the Indian embassy here from 1991 to 1995 - was in a navy blue sari with a maroon and white border, accessorised with a round gold and black pendant.

The president’s desk with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal - placed in front of three golden draped large south-facing windows - formed the backdrop as Shankar presented Obama two letters, one recalling Ronen Sen and the other appointing her as India’s new envoy.

The president and the envoy then sat down in the Oval office built with features drawn from baroque, neoclassical, and Georgian traditions by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, for a little chat on how to build on the emerging strategic partnership between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Shankar, who has served as director in the Prime Minister’s Office, headed the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) overseeing India’s cultural diplomacy and looked after the United Nations and International Security as additional secretary, was now ready for her most challenging role.

Obama, who kept a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in his senate office, recalled the Mahatma’s words, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”, to express his belief that the US and India can deliver the change that will address the challenges of the 21st century.

The words had a symbolic ring for Shankar too!

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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