London, Sept. 17: Spare a thought for Jaimini Bhagwati, the outgoing Indian high commissioner who is undergoing trial by party before he is allowed to return home to Delhi.
On Sunday, he and his wife Rita were guests at a convivial dinner hosted by Khalid Hameed and his wife Ghazala at their home in Hampstead.
“This is farewell No. 20,” the high commissioner confided to The Telegraph.
He reckons that by the time he demits office at the end of this month, “I will have attended 40 farewells”.
When his predecessor Nalin Surie returned to Delhi after his stint, the post was left vacant for seven months.
Now that Bhagwati is going back after his retirement at the age of 60, there are hopes it will not be too long before his replacement arrives. The word on the diplomatic vine is that Ranjan Mathai, who stepped down recently as India’s foreign secretary, is returning to London, this time as high commissioner. Mathai was deputy high commissioner in London before going to France as ambassador.
In a valedictory interview, Bhagwati, who has been a columnist writing mostly on economic affairs for many years, said: “I am now in a position to work with a think tank and write more on international and domestic economic issues.”
“In addition to that one is thinking of something which might be in the public space,” he added. To explain more might be “a little premature”.
Possibly the clue lies in Bhagwati’s antecedents. He comes from a distinguished political family in Assam, where voters still remember his late father, Bijoy Chandra Bhagwati, who spent seven years in prison as a freedom fighter, became an important trade union leader, the Congress Party member for Tezpur in the Lok Sabha for many years and a minister in Nehru’s government.
Before coming to London, Bhagwati was the Brussels-based Indian ambassador to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg.
He feels blessed his tenure coincided with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year and the Summer Olympics and Paralympics last year. He dismissed the waspish comment attributed to Dmitry Peskov, official spokesperson for the Russian president Vladimir Putin, that Britain is now “just a small island … no one pays any attention to them”.
“The UK is one of the most important countries in the world — period,” asserted Bhagwati. “This is a great country in every sense of the term whether you look at it politically, militarily, strategically, culturally, intellectually, academically — it has some of the oldest academic institutions.”
What about the suggestion made by some commentators in India that it now only the US which really matters for India and Britain does not figure much in the equation? “It’s not true at all,” the high commissioner responded.
He also believes Cameron when the British Prime Minister says he wants the UK to have a special, enhanced and strategic relationship with India. “I completely accept what he says — I have met him. I have been present at meetings. The sincerity is obvious.”
Some matters have to be kept confidential but he reveals there is “strong coordination and cooperation between the two sides” on such issues as counter terrorism and cyber security.
He is not unduly bothered by the £3,000 bond that may be levied on some Indians seeking UK visas — “the issue is not even on the table, it is still under consideration with the UK government”.