Q8india.com, The well-known news portal in Kuwait recently had the pleasure of having a chat with Shri Sibi George Indian Ambassador to Kuwait who is already receiving praises from the expatriate community in Kuwait for his several pro-community reforms like weekly Online Open House.
Question: You have recently been appointed as the Indian Ambassador to Kuwait, and have had a very active few months with lots of meetings. How would you summarize your experience from these encounters and Kuwait in general?
Answer: Kuwait is an important country for us, just like the rest of this region, which is part of India’s extended neighborhood with numerous civilizational, historical linkages and vibrant people-to-people exchanges. Kuwait is also an important source of energy for India.
To be an Ambassador to this country in itself is a recognition & is a big responsibility that the Government of India has entrusted on me. I am not new to this region, I have served in this region before in Egypt where I started my career, then I moved to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran & Pakistan. I am happy to be back in this region & especially in Kuwait, which is home to a large Indian diaspora that is very active, vibrant, reputed, respected & very committed.
It’s been over 6 months, and I am very happy to be here & to meet a number of people despite the difficulties & challenges we all have faced due to COVID. Due to the COVID restrictions, it was not possible to meet people in large numbers, but I have made it a point to meet large number of people in small groups; I met 2-3 small groups everyday on a daily basis at the Indian Embassy which has helped me understand their issues, concerns, suggestions & recommendations & also try my level best to address them. So, it’s been a wonderful experience being in Kuwait which as I said is a very important country & with whom we share very good relations with.
Question: Tell us about your journey so far with your diplomatic profession before coming to Kuwait.
Answer: As I mentioned earlier, I started my diplomatic career in the year 1993 after completing my training at Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration, Mussoorie & then at Delhi for 1.5 yrs training at the Indian Foreign Service Institute. This training covers a lot of things where you spend time with Army, Navy, Air Force & visit lots of institutions of national importance like I visited IIM Bangalore, IIFT Delhi The Indian Institute of Foreign Trade etc. where one gets trained on different aspects.
After completing the training & passing the internal tests, you will be placed abroad where you have to choose a language which will decide your specialization. I deliberately opted for Arabic as I mentioned before Gulf region is a very important region, we are closely connected with Arabian Sea, our forefathers travelling in & out into this region. I started with Egypt in 1995, then I moved to Qatar in 1998. During my tenure, I witnessed steady growth in Qatar-India relations, I am very happy with the good stage these bilateral relations have reached today. In 2001, I moved to Delhi, where I handled East Asia division, that includes China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong Mongolia etc.. We call this stage as Desk Officer (Deputy Secretary) stage. It gives different exposure as you are dealing and managing India’s relations with different parts of the world. From there I went to Islamabad, Pakistan for a period of 3.5 years, then to Washington in the US for next 3.5 years. Then I moved to Iran from there in Tehran for another 2 years plus & then to Saudi Arabia for another 2 years plus & then back to Delhi where I was head of Administration mostly & I handled India Africa Forum Summit that happens every 5 years. From there, I went to Switzerland as an Ambassador, there is good connect between India & Switzerland; both being democracies & very old countries. In addition I was also Ambassador to Vatican, Liechtenstein, a small country between Austria , Germany & Switzerland. It was all a different experience of representing India and presenting my credentials to three different Heads of States; one of whom was a President, the other a Pope & the third a Prince. And it was also an honor to receive both the Hon’ble President of India, who came for a 5-day state visit to Switzerland in which he unveiled a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Lake Geneva, and the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India to Switzerland for the world economic forum in Davos where he was the Key Note Speaker that had 88 Heads of States attending. In the middle of COVID, I was asked to come to Kuwait & take charge.
Question: Did you find it difficult to adjust, either socially or professionally, to life in Kuwait?
Answer: Everybody has a personal life, likewise an Ambassador also has one, he also has his family and has to take care of that. Particularly due to the frequent travel and getting adjusted to new places, it’s not an easy process. Of course, the Government takes care of it, I land in any part of the world I am received & get special treatment. The greatest thing is to represent India, it’s a great honor to represent a country with rich history, ancient civilization & a modern emerging economic power, highly talented people & Indians add a great value wherever they are, great credibility, one is proud of that. It’s that pride, civilizational legacy is what you carry wherever you go.
It also affects your personal life because you are representing a country, you have to be extremely careful that you have to behave & deal with people in a matter befitting our role as diplomats and true to our country’s values and civilizational ethos we represent. Because whatever you do people will see your country through you.
It’s always a learning experience for a diplomat & has challenges too like your family has to undergo lot of challenges due to frequent moving from country to country. For example, my daughter by the time she was in her 12th Grade, she had studied in 11 schools, that becomes a difficult change to manage. She might have engaged with kids from more than 100 countries in those 12 years. I always tell them to look at the exposure they got in this process, although I have to admit that in my heart I know how difficult it was/and is for my family to go through these changes, though the journey has been smooth for me. It doesn’t just apply to the diplomats, it applies to every Indian who has migrated & I always stress this to community members to be responsible & careful, because what you do is being watched by the people. That is how we are known to be most peace loving & respected community here in Kuwait. This is something we have earned over a long period of time & it’s not something that has changed after I have taken charge. We must be thankful to our seniors who have worked for it, done great service which is appreciated. They say if you look at the contribution of Indians to the economic growth of this country is great & continues to be same even now. Even Kuwaiti community is well received & respected community all over the world, I have seen it for myself. Some of my best friends in the diplomatic circles much before I thought of coming to Kuwait are Kuwaiti Ambassadors & diplomats. They have quality & value, they command respect in the group, these are two very vibrant communities meeting together & I am so happy to be here.
Question: With several pro-community reforms, you started an “open house” reception time for Indian Citizens residing in Kuwait. How has it been welcomed by Indians, and have you been getting the result you wished for?
Answer: Open house from my point of view is to understand & directly engage with the people. As an Ambassador, I represent every Indian national in Kuwait; I represent every community not just a small group of people or a community. One of the first things I did was I decided to work with everybody, there was some kind of derecognizing of some associations & groups etc. I said, all that goes & every association is part of my family. Suddenly, from 70 associations we became 300 plus, its fine. These are COVID times & difficult times, this is not the time for politics. This is a time for reconciliation, working together for the benefit of each & every individual. That’s what we did, the open house was to give a floor to every person who wanted to visit us & express their views. For example, the themes we selected for the open house – one was the Engineers Issue, other was the delay in Issuing of Passports, labor issues, legal assistance etc. Though it’s an open house to bring up any issues, we focus on specific areas to bring out transparency in the functioning of Indian Embassy, like what embassy does, people should know because we represent a democratic country back home & Kuwait is also a democratic country, you see everything in newspaper every day, everything is transparent. Though it was transparent earlier also, I wanted to bring ii more transparency in things like what you do with ICWF, for example or how many people have we helped in the jails, how many people we could assist etc. All this has to come & be known to the public, this was the objective.
Open house is a forum for me to understand the issues relevant for the people & at the same time tell the people what we are doing so that there is a mutual exchange taking place & I think it’s yielding its results. Unfortunately, I could not do it physically due to the COVID guideline from the medical team & we are doing it online way & I think it’s doing reasonably well & has been very useful, people are also getting used online platforms during these COVID times. We also introduced feedback forms in multiple languages, viz. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, English, Bengali, Punjabi & most of the regional languages, that has also helped. We introduced it also in our labor & welfare wings, its working smooth. Can it be through mail? Yes, everything is a work in progress. We have kept feedback collection boxes at the Embassy & our three outsourcing centers which I get every evening & we go through each one of those & work on it. It has put additional pressure, but it’s fine we are getting used to the process.
Question: With Covid-19 pandemic, Indian embassy did a fantastic job during lock-down by establishing a support group, tell us about it.
Answer: There is something great about the Indian community, whenever there is a crisis, they come together leaving behind their differences & disagreements. This is exactly what happened in the times of COVID crisis, it’s been a great experience how we came together here in Kuwait, I have seen it in Saudi Arabia also during Nitaqat – Government Amnesty program in 2012 when people came together & formed volunteers group of 700 people working in different parts of a big country where we converted every school into a center for Embassy to collect documents, issue emergency certificates etc. & it worked. I have seen the same spirit of unity in the Indian Community here in Kuwait. We had the Indian Community Support Group (ICSG) which my predecessor had set-up, I found that my community worked very well with it. Not only that, many Kuwaitis came forward and supported & contributed, and I was pleased to see so many letters of appreciation from Kuwaiti community appreciating how the Indian community has addressed it in a big way with unity.
Question: What kind of support are you expecting from Indian community in Kuwait to achieve your mission in Kuwait.
Answer: Now, we are reaching a milestone in our relationship. First it is the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations with Kuwait. India was one of the very few countries to recognize Kuwait as an independent State from day one & establish diplomatic relations. Second, it’s the 75th Anniversary of our independence. These are two important milestones; we need to use it to further strengthen our relationship. I need the community to do it for us, working as a team. If we have 300 associations, every association should make it a point to celebrate at least these 2 events to strengthen this long-standing relationship. I urge every association, this is a celebration we cannot afford to miss, though being within the COVID guidelines & adapting to the new normal and Indian Embassy will be very happy to extend its support.
Question: Some of the challenges Indian community is facing in Kuwait is the Engineers issue and their residency renewal process. How is embassy looking to solve this issue?
Answer: This is an issue I inherited when I took charge here in Kuwait & COVID made it more complicated causing difficulty for the people to carry out paper work etc. I wanted to depend on the partners to address the situation. I wanted myself, Kuwaiti authorities involved to understand the process, gravity of the situation. For this we needed the database of people affected, their problems, issues. Understanding the problem & bringing it to the notice of authorities in India & in Kuwait is the responsibility of Indian Embassy.
When we got to know about the issue, we looked into the database of registered engineers & found that it was not complete. We started an immediate campaign to collect the information & I am happy that we collected data of more than 12000 engineers who are registered in Kuwait. They had various issues that were to be addressed, we went to the Kuwait Society of Engineers and explained to them the various issues faced by our engineers. This helped taking it up with authorities in India who took up the issue with various universities involved and asked them to expedite the process. We could work out a weekly meeting with Kuwait Society of Engineers where our 2 officers go sit with them every Monday & take specific cases & we were able to make progress. We were able to address many of the issues, offer assistance & streamline, still it’s a work in progress.
Question: What are your suggestions to young aspirants who want to become Ambassadors of India in future.
Answer: I am very curious why many don’t aspire to become Ambassadors, it’s a great job to represent your country abroad. It’s a great opportunity for one to work towards joining Indian Foreign Service, becoming an Ambassador representing your country.
We could only imagine a car around 20 years back when we were told about the word Ambassador, this is how it was but things have changed now, there is more awareness of the Foreign Service particularly in a globalized world with so many globalized citizens.
I have an old friend who knew me before I came to Kuwait, he came to visit us with his daughter. When I asked her if you have visited the Indian Embassy. To my surprise being in Kuwait for 15 years, born & bought up here she had not visited the only Indian office on this soil. So, I want to start something like Embassy Familiarization Visit for Indian students to come & spend some time in Embassy to change the perception that it is more than just a passport issuing authority, building relationships, engaging with the governments & local population. As I said, I represent every Indian including these students, I want them to visit Embassy and experience the processes here, have a pleasant experience and debunk the hearsay stories of nightmarish experiences at government offices. Ambassador spends his time on lot of other things, students should get to know it. When I told this to some of the teachers, they showed willingness saying not just students we also want to come and experience what it is like to be in Embassy. This is how we need to build relationships & I am very happy with the kind of support I am getting here from the community. I always believe Embassy is a home away from home, that is why we have these lunch programs where anybody can have lunch at the Indian Embassy. Every distressed laborer who comes to embassy to register a paper, he gets lunch. First, he will have lunch and then he will proceed with the procedure of registration for which he has come. Because people start very early in the morning around 6 AM, they come here skip lunch & stand in the queue & they don’t feel at home. So, I want everyone to feel at home in the Embassy. We started this program around 3-4 months back and I am very happy that its continuing because these are covid times, people have difficulties, if their Embassy doesn’t take care of them, who will? If not now, then when? If not we, then who?
Question: What message do you have to Indian diaspora in Kuwait?
Answer: As I said, I feel at home. I consider Indian community as the big Indian family here and I am very happy that they also consider me as their family. It’s a team work, we will work together today, tomorrow, days after, weeks after, months after & this is a relationship which is worth building in Kuwait. Because it’s an important country, this is an important region & Kuwait is a reliable partner for us economically, politically & in many other spheres including energy. So, we need to strengthen this special relationship further, I look forward to celebrating both the anniversaries I mentioned with the Indian Community here. Thank you very much.0