Shaking hands with the high and the mighty

Last Updated 29 March 2014, 15:26 IST

She is now India’s Ambassador to UNESCO. Ruchira Kamboj, our first woman Chief of Protocol, tells Tripti Nath about her incredible journey .

India's first woman Chief of Protocol, Ruchira Kamboj, is all set to leave for Paris, a city that brings back pleasant memories of her first diplomatic posting as Third Secretary, from 1989-91. A Francophile, she always wanted to return to the French capital some day as India's Ambassador. And her latest appointment as India’s Ambassador to UNESCO, her third multilateral assignment, has fulfilled the long-held dream.

Sleep deprivation is the last thing on Kamboj’s mind when she has to go to the airport past midnight to receive or see off a visiting Head of State or Head of Government. Topper of the 1987 batch of the Indian Civil Service, she always wanted to be a diplomat who “extends the first hand that greets foreign dignitaries to India and also says the final goodbye to Crown Princes, Royalty, Heads of State and Heads of Government".

 Kamboj and her team of 50-odd officials have been managing, on an average, over 100 incoming VVIP visits in a year. The good-humoured diplomat is known to be a tough taskmaster.

“Everything in Protocol looks seamless, but it is planned meticulously with great attention to detail, style and elegance. You do a million things right and nobody notices but you make that one-in-a-million mistake and you may be on your way out. The stakes are high; it’s a very intricate job that touches virtually every sphere of foreign policy,” she maintains.

Of course, Kamboj’s work is not just about managing visits, although it is the most visible aspect. It involves interacting with Ambassadors and High Commissioners, credentialing them, attending to their National Day receptions, looking at issues of diplomatic privileges and immunities and facilities accorded to the diplomatic and consular corps stationed in the country.

Much praise has come to Kamboj along the way, but the moments she has really cherished are when Heads of State, while leaving the country, have told her, “We would like to have a Chief of Protocol like India's.”

The daughter of an army officer, who attended school in Delhi, Baroda and Jammu, Kamboj says she owes her entire success to her parents and a very accommodating businessman husband, Diwakar Kamboj.

Her earliest childhood memories are of her father's uncompromising insistence on punctuality and good dressing.

Ask her why no woman diplomat before her was handpicked for the job of the COP and she says, “Perhaps the time had come for a woman to do this job and I just happened to be that lady.”

As of today, India only has a hundred women diplomats, who account for about 12 per cent of the total strength of about 800 officers in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

“When I joined the service 25 years ago, the intake, on an average, was two out of 12 a year. Now, in the last five to 12 years, we are taking 25 to 35 officers a year in the IFS. After 1991, we have increased the number of missions and posts abroad – at present, these stand at an impressive 183,” she informs.

 Incidentally, India along with the US, Canada and select European countries, is among the few countries that has a woman COP. And, Kamboj will be working till the last day of her tenure like most of her  colleagues do in a short-staffed ministry. The feisty lady derives a tremendous sense of satisfaction from the fact that her husband, mother and daughter are proud of her achievements.

But she is not the one to rest on past laurels. “Life is all about change. No matter what you achieve, you have to keep scaling mountains,” she says.

(Published 29 March 2014, 15:26 IST)

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