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Indian Diplomacy @ Work

Interview

Walking the Talk


Ruchira Kamboj, Chief of Protocol, Government of India, in a rst-ever tte--tte with Diplomatist, provides the inside view of the highest ofce of protocol in India. She opens up about her role to Linda Brady Hawke and Anusua Diya Chowdhury, and explains why her ofce is a tool for successful diplomacy
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he doesnt wear it on her sleeves. She doesnt look it either. She seems very well turned out in a white chikan suit, just right for a warm March Delhi morning. And she welcomes you with a candour not found amongst most of her world. For a woman who fills in a top job in the Indian bureaucracy, she seems something of an oddball in those first few minutes. But Ruchira Kamboj, Indias first woman Chief of Protocol (COP) is no fish out of water. She says that she was picked for the job not for her gender, but for her professional track record. I believe that it is my professional competence upon which this selection took place, she reflects. And her resume concedes. Kamboj topped the IFS exam in 1987 and since has served in dynamic roles, including as Counsellor in

EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY DIPLOMATIST Annual Edition December 2013

Indian Diplomacy @ Work

The Protocol Division headed by the Chief of Protocol is a Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, and advises and assists the Offices of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister on matters of diplomatic protocol, or etiquette. The office arranges detailed itineraries for foreign dignitaries from royalty, Heads of State and Government, Vice President and equivalent and Foreign Ministers visiting India, and accompanies the President, Vice President and Prime Minister on official travels abroad
the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, New York, where she dealt with political issues, including reform & expansion of the UN Security Council, United Nations Peace Keeping and the Middle East Peace Process. What I bring to this role is what I stand for: substance and honesty. I know that the seat I hold means that all responsibility ends with me. The buck stops here! If an error happens, even when it is not in my hand entirely like traffic glitches that lead to a convoy delay, it is my responsibility. The Protocol Division headed by the Chief of Protocol is a Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, and advises and assists the Offices of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister on matters of diplomatic protocol or etiquette. The office arranges detailed itineraries for foreign dignitaries from royalty, Heads of State and Government, Vice President and equivalent and Foreign Ministers visiting India, and accompanies the President, Vice President and Prime Minister on official travels abroad. While handling inbound visits in these categories, the COP and her team are responsible for arranging a seamless stay that includes tactical and logistical arrangements the nuts and bolts, so to speak, that keep things in place. Explaining the role of the Chief of Protocol, Kamboj says, India is home to 155 Foreign Representations. It also has 88 Consulates, 177 Honorary Consulates and 37 international bodies/agencies. We are perhaps the third after Brussels and Washington, in terms of the number of diplomatic Missions. Beside visits the most visible part of my job - we are charged with the practical implementation of the Vienna Convention in terms of privileges and immunities of diplomats posted in India, as also in providing facilities to them. The Chief of Protocol also administers multilateral conferences hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs. Thus, public holidays like Independence Day and Republic Day are working days for the Chief of Protocol and her team. Speaking of the challenges that her role sends her way, Kamboj says, This is a wonderful job. It gives me a ringside view of the world and the one platform where I meet top diplomats and leaders from across the globe. However, it is impossible to manage so much single-handedly. I depend heavily on my team of around 50 that includes four Deputies, she shares. Her team is all-male. It makes me the only woman in my office! So how does she manage? Does she feel out of place? This job is tough. Odd hours are a given. It requires me to be on my feet at all times. But there is nothing I dont like. Yes, it is a little nocturnal to turn up at the airport at 2 am to receive a state guest, but it is a role I am pleased to carry out, Kamboj reiterates. She speaks emphatically of her roles prior to this. I was genderless in my previous roles and positions as well. As I am now. I believe I was chosen for this role for my competence and professional track record. That I am a woman, was secondary. The Protocol Division headed by the Chief of Protocol also plans and executes diplomatic ceremonies and dinners and oversees the accreditation of foreign Ambassadors. A Chief of Protocol must pay careful attention to detail and be well-versed in cultural differences to ensure diplomatic events proceed smoothly. For example, he or she must, when planning a state dinner, be aware of officials ranks when making seating assignments, must choose entertainment that doesnt offend foreign sensibilities and must even choose a culturally appropriate colour for flowers, among other responsibilities. As Ruchira Kamboj says, it all begins at office. The job demands a meticulous attention to detail. I ask of that from my team. And, one must lead from the front. I bring integrity to my role and do believe that my team respects me because I walk the talk, and talk the talk at all given times. Like my predecessors, I bring a value add to the role and leave my stamp on the processes of this office. I have trained my team whenever a need arose. I am particular how a task is to be done, and set the goal posts out in no uncertain terms. I am more than willing to guide this process along, cites Kamboj, and adds, There is less information regarding the role and responsibilities of this office outside the MEA. I hope to turn to that issue soon. Among other targets, we are updating the protocol booklets, and bringing out a new user-friendly guide for the Protocol Departments in the different States, to ensure an overall consistency in what we do. While she says the takeaway from this job is tremendous; her only regret is the time she is able to give to her family. The fact that my daughter is very proud of her mother is a definite takeaway, yet the fact that I have been able to make very little time for my family is a challenge, she sighs, but is quick to add that family time has also got to do a lot with managing the people involved. Ruchira Kamboj last served as Deputy Head at the Office of the Secretary General, Commonwealth Secretariat in London. Prior to that, she served as Minister and Head, High Commission of India, Cape Town, South Africa. Being a career diplomat, she is widely travelled and proficient in French. She also served at High Commission of India, Mauritius and at the Embassy of India, Paris, where she handled a wide gamut of political and economic issues. She has held the positions of Director/Deputy Secretary (Foreign Service Personnel) and Under Secretary (Europe West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi.

EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY DIPLOMATIST Annual Edition December 2013