After a brief but brimmingly eventful 26 months as Indian Ambassador to Kuwait, H.E. Sibi George, is now headed to Japan to take up his new appointment as India’s top envoy there.
By Reaven D’Souza
The word dynamic does not do full justice in describing the energetic ambassador, who since his arrival in Kuwait in mid-August of 2020 has been going about rejuvenating and broadening relations with Kuwait and its people on the diplomatic, economic, cultural and social fronts. He has also introduced transformative changes within the Indian Embassy and its operations, as well as in its interactions with the Indian community in Kuwait.
In a recent interview with the Managing Editor of The Times Kuwait, Ambassador George spoke on an extensive range of topics covering bilateral relations with Kuwait, and the various initiatives launched by the Embassy to strengthen links with the host community, and within the Indian diaspora in this country.
The ambassador began by saying that it was “a great honor to represent my beloved country, India that is Bharat, a land of 1.4 billion people, which is the oldest, largest and among the very few continuous major civilizations in the world.” Indicating that his previous diplomatic experience in the region and elsewhere prepared him for his posting here in Kuwait, the ambassador noted, “I began my diplomatic career in Cairo where I served in the Mission as Political Officer. Subsequently I moved to the Indian Embassy in Doha as First Secretary. Later as Political Counselor in Indian High Commission in Islamabad, and then as Political Counselor and Commercial Counselor at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.
“I also served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Indian Missions in Tehran and Riyadh. At the Ministry of External Affairs headquarters in New Delhi, I served in the East Asia Division and also as coordinator of the India–Africa Forum Summit. I later headed Administration, Establishment and Welfare Divisions in the Ministry of External Affairs. Before my posting here, I was Ambassador to Switzerland, The Principality of Liechtenstein and The Holy See. Each of these assignments gave a different experience which I cherish everyday of my life.”
Talking about some of the major challenges he faced during his diplomatic career, the ambassador was emphatic in his response. “Thinking about past challenges I have faced, there is no doubt that the biggest challenge was to prepare the large Indian community in Kuwait to face the unprecedented problems posed by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
“I landed in Kuwait in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, at a time when the large Indian community in Kuwait was facing many challenges, which included those stranded in Kuwait due to non-availability of flights to India; those stranded in India due to travel restriction; the continuing job losses; non-payment or reduction of salaries; shortage of food materials and medicines; growing mental stress; people getting infected with virus in large numbers; medical treatment related issues, including shortage of vaccines; people who lost their relatives and friends; worried parents and children due to closure of schools, and the uncertainty associated with various examinations, including all-India exams and tests such as CBSE, JEE, NEET, and NATA among others. The Indian diaspora were also suffering due to continuous pandemic related lock-down.
“When I look back today, I am satisfied that the Indian community in Kuwait joined hands with their Embassy, transcending religious, regional and language barriers, in its efforts to fight the pandemic. Another major challenge was during my posting in Saudi Arabia when we had to work towards the welfare of the 2.8 million Indians in Saudi Arabia during the most challenging period of Nitaqat. Our Mission in Riyadh worked very closely with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and received excellent cooperation and support from the government and the citizens of the Kingdom. It was a mutually beneficial cooperation which helped regularize the legal status of over a million Indians in Saudi Arabia.”
Asked about his experiences in Kuwait in his interactions with government officials and ordinary citizens, the ambassador once again stated categorically, “India and Kuwait have a historic relationship which can be traced back several centuries. Over the years, this relationship has grown into a mutually beneficial long-standing dynamic partnership. Each time I see a dhow or a replica of a dhow here, I am reminded of earlier generations in Kuwait who traded across the seas with India. Every family in Kuwait has some kind of connect with India. That deep bilateral connection was evident in the way I was received by the officials and citizens of Kuwait. I always felt at home in this friendly country. I also found that Kuwaiti citizens are very positive in their dealings with India at all levels.”
Elaborating on his impressions of Kuwait’s top leadership about India and their views on Indians living in this county, the top envoy said: “As a diplomat with over twenty-five years of service worldwide, I have seen how the Indian diaspora has contributed immensely in building relationship between their motherland India and their host country at all levels and in several fields. This diaspora has produced many successful entrepreneurs, scientists, beloved educationists, architects and engineers and medical professionals. This is also the case with the Indian community in Kuwait.
“Every Kuwaiti whom I met, both in government and business, had good things to say about the vibrant Indian community in Kuwait. They are thankful for the contributions of the Indian community in the economic progress of Kuwait. On my part, I found the Indian community to be one of the most vibrant of the Indian diaspora abroad. They have contributed immensely in the economic progress of Kuwait, while at the same time remaining closely attached to their motherland. They are contributing in India’s march towards an Aatmanirbhar Bharat or Self-reliant India.
“In Kuwait, I have seen that the vibrant Indian community has produced stars in almost every profession and every business, some of whom are nurturing a second and third generation far outshining their parents and grandparents, while at the same time cherishing the fine traditions of India.
“I am convinced that this highly talented community has so much untapped potential to contribute in celebrating India in Kuwait, and in promoting our strong relationship. For its part, the Indian Embassy has created several platforms such as the Indian Cultural Network (ICN), Indian Professionals Network (IPN), Indian Business Network (IBN) and Indian Sports Network (ISN) to connect with the many talented Indians in Kuwait.”
Expounding on India’s relations with the region, and more specifically with Kuwait, Ambassador George noted, “Kuwait is part of India’s extended neighborhood and the two countries are among each other’s major trading partners. Stability, security and prosperity of this region is very important to us. Apart from trade and investment there are several crucial areas that are a priority to India, including security of the country, security of maritime lanes, fight against terrorism, defence, science and technology cooperation. In recent years, we have been able to make tangible progress in each of these crucial areas.
“We were able to take our bilateral relationship with Kuwait to a new level of partnership with two high-level visits, that of the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister to India in March and that of our External Affairs Minister to Kuwait in June last year. We also established an India–Kuwait Joint Commission Meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers.
We also prepared a forward-looking roadmap in our bilateral relations and organized the Regional Ambassadors’ Conference in Kuwait for the first time, which was attended by all our ambassadors in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Our bilateral cooperation in the fight against the recent pandemic also further strengthened our partnership.
“On the economic front, our business partnership with Kuwait is something that evolved over several generations. It is a partnership involving several stakeholders; business establishments, industry and commercial chambers, investment boards, industry groups, factories, science and technology establishments, and at the root of it all are the vibrant people-to-people contacts. There are several key areas such as energy security, trade and investment, infrastructure development projects, healthcare, automobiles, petrochemicals and education where there exists huge potential to broaden our longstanding partnership and I am happy to note that cooperation in each of these areas are growing.”
Asked about his remarkable engagement with the Indian diaspora especially in most challenging times, and the various initiatives he has launched to support these initiatives, the ambassador recollected, “When I look back, I can say with a lot of satisfaction that last two years have been a period when we addressed many of the challenges associated with the unprecedented pandemic and at the same time deepened our long-standing dynamic partnership with Kuwait. As an Embassy, we reinvented ourselves and engaged both the community and our Kuwaiti partners in a hybrid format, a mix of digital and physical.
“I am proud of the fact that each one of the nearly one million Indian community members worked closely with the Embassy as a team during the pandemic. I need to add that each one of our Kuwaiti partners also responded positively to our efforts. Our challenges during this period were many; I recall the Vande Bharat Mission that provided travel arrangements for the hundreds of thousands of stranded Indians back home during the pandemic; and later, when the crisis eased, the setting up of an air-bubble to facilitate the return of those stranded in India back to Kuwait. There was the vaccination drive, and the supply of air-tickets, as well as addressing the food shortages and spearheading the distribution of medicines and other essentials to the needy.
“With the full support and active participation of Indian Community Support Group (ICSG) and our many associations and groups we were able to meet most of these challenges. We should always remember the many sacrifices made by our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in saving the lives of Indians, Kuwaitism and other expats. Also, we should not forget the contributions made by other professionals, our lawyers who organized free legal consultations every Saturday at the Embassy, our businessmen who contributed generously and our many volunteers who served honestly and dedicatedly. We were also able to address the many concerns that our children and their parents had, including by organizing JEE, NATA and NEET examinations for the first time in Kuwait.”
When queried as to which of the many successes he has notched in Kuwait, he would consider to be the most gratifying to him personally, the ambassador turned ruminative before replying, “I would like to mention a few developments as among the most gratifying moments for me during my stay in Kuwait. First was to get the NEET examination center to be allotted in Kuwait, which was a first at that time for any place outside India. It helped a large number of students and parents in the middle of the pandemic. This year fourteen centers were allotted outside India for the conduct of NEET examination.
“Equally gratifying was organizing the supply of a large quantity of medical oxygen from Kuwait to India during the second phase of COVID-19 pandemic in India. It was an occasion when we mobilized the entire Indian diaspora in Kuwait to join hands with the Embassy to support their motherland. We were able to organize a sea-air bridge, involving several Indian Naval Ships and Indian Air Force aircraft, to transfer the medical oxygen to India. Another moment was the supply of ‘Made in India’ vaccines to Kuwait during the pandemic.”
On another note, Ambassador George recalled with obvious pride the two major celebratory initiatives — India @75, and 60 years of India-Kuwait diplomatic relations — that were held here during his tenure. “During the last two years we organized at least three events every week with the aim of realizing our target of holding 600 events to mark the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations with Kuwait, and 750 events to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. We fully utilized every opportunity to celebrate India and Indianness, everyday in Kuwait. It was so gratifying to see the presence of so much talent within the Indian community here in Kuwait,” said the ambassador.
He concluded the interview by adding, “ I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and cooperation during my tenure here, starting with the leadership and Government of the friendly State of Kuwait for the continued support in further deepening and strengthening of India-Kuwait relations, and to the citizens and all friends of India in Kuwait, as well as to every member of the Indian diaspora in Kuwait.”