Interview with Ambassador Amarendra Khatua
He is multi-talented. He is a proud Indian and a proud Odia. He is a leading diplomat of the country and an expert in Foreign Policy and Trade. He has represented India at many important international platforms of negotiation and has brought laurels to his country. Now he heads the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) which trains the Indian Foreign Service officers. He is also a well known poet having poetry collections to his credit.
Ambassador Amarendra Khatua shares his lived experience, views on foreign policy and strongly argues why Odisha government should have a Pravasi Odia Policy. Our Senior Editor Kamala Kanta Dash interviewed Ambassador Khatua.
Q1. How did your early life and education influence you to join Foreign Service?
A1. My early life is all about free-wheeling my childhood in the rural Birupa riverine villages of Baisimouza under complete love and togetherness with my great grandfather, Kulamani Swain, some non-serious childhood education (I was never a great student either!) and spending all the free time in reading, dreaming, imagining and getting attracted to all forms of creativity. I was born in Arakhpur, Jajpur District on 4 June 1957. Left for few months of enrollment in BJB College, left for writing I.A Examination in Larambha College, then to GM College and on the way to K.M College, Delhi University.
My early life was guru-ed by my great grandfather, who himself was not degree-wise highly educated. But he empowered my mind to think big, to help and socially contribute and to be close to all kind of arts and sports. I dislike power and believe power corrupts. Hence, always I thought of not joining IAS and IPS (with my rank I would have got Odisha Cadre!) and thought about Foreign Service to involve myself mostly in reading, writing and arithmetics, help Odias and people in its typical positioning and to connect people and specialize in global trade matters and trade negotiations. Other than that I had no heroes and no one to guide me except my great grandfather, who lived long enough to see me in Foreign Service in 1981.
Q2. Would you like to share some of your major experiences and achievements as an Ambassador of India?
A2. From day one in Foreign Service, I have specialized in trade and trade negotiations. I have participated in negotiating India’s quota when Spain joined European Union and started a major India Promotion Week in El Corte Ingles in Madrid, which is still continuing as a major annual Trade Promotion Event. With Ambassador Ronen Sen, we reconstructed India’s trade and economic relations with Russian Federation after USSR break-up. We negotiated the first major take over of steel plants by Mr. Lakshmi Mittal group in Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico, Karaganda in Kazakhstan and Iron Ore mines in Liberia. I succeeded in changing a presidential decree in Argentina (unheard of!) to include India’s name for export of pharmaceuticals (after a struggle lasting over 40 years).
Building barracks for child soldiers of Sierra Leone, taking 120 Indian Police women for years to war-torn Liberia and changing India’s presence in a major way in Ivory Coast give me satisfaction. As India’s special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, I contributed to South Africa’s ex-president Mbeki’s Peace Negotiation and protecting India’s oil interest in these two countries.
Ensuring participation by more than 1.3 million Argentines all over this country in the First International Day of Yoga in 2015 was a major achievement. These are only a few, in my 37 years of diplomatic placements in Madrid, Mexico City, Abidjan, Moscow, Karachi, Buenos Aires and New York, I have tried to contribute to the best of my abilities and sincerity and have made my mark in a humble yet emphatic way.
Q3. There has been a demand to bring mid-career professionals from industry, academia and media to Foreign Service. What do you think about this proposal?
A3. Why not? It is time to bring expertise and domain specialists from other services, industry, academia as well as think tanks to bureaucracy. Modi Government with its ideas and new programmes must expedite this to strengthen, streamline and govern.
Q4. Odisha has been historically famous for its maritime connections and trade. But there is hardly any initiative to study its past and present role in international arena? What should be done to promote International Studies in Odisha?
A4. We Odias, probably like all Indians, are argumentative, silently opinionated, individualistic and too competitive to be ourselves. Hence, we construct individual brilliance in thousands, few institution-level or enterprise-oriented examples. Our politicians and bureaucrats spend lots of time impressing a constituency which does not need much from the government.
Welfare of 25% of tribal population in our total population, deteriorating agrarian economy, evils of migration into urban areas, lack of river control, water management and drinking water issues (problem known since 1936!), institutional arrangement to create R&D organizations with public and private initiative in Odisha, to create ‘Pravasi Odia’ Industrial Park with single window support system to bring Odia-controlled or patented technology and investment funds etc. are some of the issues for our immediate and mid-term concerns.
Our outreach programmes are limited. We mostly trade through supply to exporters or representing regional trader of products. The local products which could be used for major production plants are just exported as raw materials. International study programmes in our universities are dated, not linked to globalised academic chain and not supported by Odia foundations in providing scholarships, loans, endowments. Individual efforts are there to quote, but what we need is to formulate Odisha State Policy, Odisha Policy for Overseas Odias and institutionalization of directional efforts in trade, industry, studies, start-ups, exports, soft power, etc.
Q5. How do you see India-China relationship shaping in the coming years?
A5. Enough pressure on China must be exerted to settle border issues and Chinese claim on Indian territories which China uses as a pressure point often. Our growing trade relations and Chinese export market dependency could be used to resolve the problem. For the rest, our cooperation will grow China’s friendship and economic and defence cooperation with Pakistan will create temporary multilateral road blocks for us posed by China to appease Pakistan.
Q6. Any message for Odias who are preparing for Civil Services and why they should prefer Indian Foreign Service?
A6. Preparing for Civil Services needs single minded preparation and devotion. Anybody can make into it. The successful ones give unnecessary complex opinions on how to prepare and how difficult it is to make it. Civil Services is not end all of the secured job market. One can earn and contribute in many areas and from many positions.
Foreign Service can be good if one is ready to develop domain expertise and specialization. If you represent your country, you must know how to represent and how to contribute and promote nation’s interest globally. Our poor and middle class depend on the contribution of globalization process to substantially improve our living conditions, growth and economy.
Q7. Any message for Odisha Diary?
A7. As I always say, preach and practice, you cannot be a good global citizen if you are not a good Indian and not a good Indian if you are not a good Odia.
A grand sense of belonging takes away your complexes, adds to your purpose of delivery and spirit of community and prepares you to multi-role-playing in diverse areas. Secondly, one can be individualistic and hedonistic in many things, but to help people and a State and a country, one must be ready to join hands and subjugate to team spirit and some discipline.