|Rao (top) and Rocca: Maiden milestone
Washington, Jan. 31: Move over, men! Indo-US relations will henceforth be managed mainly by women.
Even as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has claimed that a “milestone” has been reached “in transforming the relationship between the US and India”, South Block has followed the US state department’s lead in handing over management of the bilateral relationship to women.
Since last week, South Block’s key division dealing with the US and Canada is headed by a woman. Sujata Mehta worked in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Prime Minister’s Office during the volatile years when Indo-US relations see-sawed from imaginative, new openings to deep lows, such as the occasion when Washington questioned the legality of Kashmir’s instrument of accession to India.
She then worked for about six years for the UN in the highly challenging environment in Gaza and later at the world body’s headquarters in New York.
Mehta’s deputy in South Block is a woman. But she will shortly move to Washington where she will replace the Indian embassy’s current spokesman.
Renu Pal will bring to the embassy the earlier experience of having worked in South Block’s then “Americas” division during the same years that Mehta was in the PMO. Later, Pal had a ringside view of key developments in Indo-US relations from the foreign secretary’s office in South Block. She was director of that office for the entirety of Kanwal Sibal’s tenure as head of the Indian Foreign Service.
Change is also on the way in the management of India’s ties with America’s west coast. A woman officer with long experience of the US will take over as India’s consul general shortly.
Nirupama Rao was special assistant to Siddhartha Shankar Ray when he was India’s ambassador in Washington. She was also at Harvard working on Sino-Indian relations and was later ambassador-in-residence at the University of Maryland.
Rao subsequently did economic work in New Delhi and was spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, a combination of experience which will help her to deal with the west coast’s media, Silicon Valley and the increasingly controversial issue of outsourcing America’s high-tech jobs, a trend in which states like Washington and California have a big role.
On the US side, relations with India are handled day-to-day by Christina Rocca, who heads the state department’s South Asia bureau. Her deputy too is a woman, Michele Sison, who earlier served as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad.
The bureau’s officer dealing with the huge media interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan is Sara Stryker, who once worked at the US embassy in New Delhi.
It is well known that another woman, Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to President George W. Bush, has been a key point person in steering Indo-US ties to their present stage.
Rice has repeatedly intervened in ironing out Washington’s famous inter-agency tussles in the way of taking forward America’s growing relations with India.
The only previous occasion when women played such a major functional role in Indo-US relations was in the early 1990s when three women officers had important jobs at the Indian embassy here.
Like Rocca now, the state department’s South Asia bureau was then headed by a woman, Robin Raphel. It is well known that the then first lady, Hillary Clinton, was instrumental in getting President Bill Clinton to change his policies on South Asia after her two visits to India, which left lasting impressions on her about the country.
Hillary, now a senator from New York, continues to take an interest in India and was a guest at a Republic Day celebration hosted here this month by Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh.
Mehta faces a mirrior image of this gender scenario in her other charge --- Canada.
Ottawa’s high commissioner to India, who took charge recently is a woman, Lucie Edwards. The Indian envoy to Canada too is a woman, Shashi U. Tripathi. India’s deputy high commissioner in Ottawa is, yes, you guessed it: Parbati Sen Vyas.