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2019: India House Opens New Chapter

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High Commissioner HE Ruchi Ghanashyam

A major step forward as the UK welcomes India’s second female High Commissioner since Independence ….writes Pranav Bhanot

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High Commissioner HE Ruchi Ghanashyam with Indian community members in London

It has taken 26 Indian High Commissioners to the UK and the best part of five decades to finally welcome only the second female since India’s independence in 1947 to take charge at India House, London. What has so often been dubbed as an old Indian gentlemen’s club due to the same congregation of London based middle aged men who appear to have a season ticket at events at India House. A lady in charge at India House heralds refreshing times.

If there is one thing I have learnt about Indian High Commissioners in the United Kingdom, they are no longer ordinary civil servants quietly working behind the scenes to further the goals of the department portfolio but are in fact superstars in their own right. Having a female Indian diplomat who is the centre of attention, followed around by the press, chased by invitees at events hoping to capture a quick selfie and of course, being the key note speaker who gets the standing ovation has long been missing at India House. The Gallery along with this story will give an idea about her busy schedule in London.

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High Commissioner HE Ruchi Ghanashyam with Deborah Bronnert, Director-General Economic & Global issues, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

H.E Ruchi Ghanashyam’s appointment at a critical time in India and UK relations sets a strong message from New Delhi’s Ministry of External Affairs, of the elevated role of Indian women defining the trajectory of India in the 21st century.  This appointment has the potential to inspire and empower a new generation of women in both India and the UK to explore the charms of public service as a career, a sector which needs its thirst for greater female representation quenching.

As Ghanashyam settles into her Kensington home and sets up office in Aldwych, the first citizen of India’s appointment is significant. The only female High Commissioner prior to Ghanashyam taking office was Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit from 1954 to 1961. Whilst, Mrs Pandit is remembered for her role in steering UK-India relations soon after India’s independence, tables have somewhat reverse. It is now the United Kingdom which has obtained independence from Europe and Ghanashyam will be critical in paving the way for closer relations between the UK and India.

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High Commissioner HE Ruchi Ghanashyam with French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet

The stencil for Ghanashyam’s legacy in London is in place, her job is to now colourfully paint it and she will no doubt be evaluated on her effectiveness to work with Government departments in Westminster and New Delhi to curate an effective trading relationship as the UK’s annexation process from Europe formalises. Apart from her work in India and UK trading relations following the B word (*cough Brexit*), Ghanashyam is well positioned to galvanise the Indian diaspora and in particular the millennials to strengthen the “Living Bridge”.

With only 21% of young people in the UK saying that they know “a great deal” or “fair amount” about India compared to 74% of young Indians saying the same about the United Kingdom, a decline in Indian students choosing the United Kingdom as the country of choice to study combined with a decline in the UK’s market share in India’s overall tourist arrivals, there are plenty of challenges for the incoming High Commissioner. When discussing how to deal with such issues, the India Inc, UK-India Young Leaders’ Forum 2018 sponsored by Infosys put together a number of proposals including; a High Commission backed India-UK incubator for start-ups and social initiatives to foster greater interactions between the two countries across a number of fields including finance, technology, the arts and politics.

Other ideas included field trips to support national campaigns for political and social change, creating an exchange programme between the UK and India Youth Parliaments and giving more focus to sporting and charitable initiatives (apart from cricket) to advance engagement between the millennials of both countries.

The task list for the newly appointed High Commissioner requires extraordinary vision and leadership. However, the UK is beneficiary to no ordinary diplomat.  The tenacity, ambition and commitment of this lady cannot be underestimated. After all, not many can say that they were the first Indian female diplomat posted in Pakistan when harassment of Indian diplomats was rife. Therefore, on behalf of the United Kingdom, we wish the H.E Ghanashyam well in her new post and hope her sparkle will forge a reinvigorated UK-India relation at a time when all eyes are on this potentially winning relationship.

Please click the image to view the Gallery – Images from the major events recently held at India House and in London

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