• 07 Feb, 2023

India’s Jaishankar, President Irfaan, and Guyana

India’s Jaishankar, President Irfaan, and Guyana

India’s Jaishankar, President Irfaan, and Guyana

India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is among the followed and most respected Foreign Ministers globally. He is vociferous his advocacy of India’s interests. He is treated like a rock star in India in the field of foreign affairs and in his defense of India’s position in various international issues. The Indian public and the diaspora, including Indian Guyanese New Yorkers, love his strong nationalist stance on matters pertaining to India. 


Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali appeared to have struck the right chord with Dr Jaishankar in their public appearances at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Indore as pertains to bolstering relations between the two countries. Dr. Jaishankar and President Irfaan and Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi appeared in public for several functions before and during the PBD and they seemingly got along quite well as per reports in the media. At an open air cultural concert, Dr. Jaishankar and Ali were seen constantly interacting at the front seat directly in front of the large stage where the cultural troupes performed. They chit chat quite a bit. It showed they had developed a friendly rapport while commenting on and cheering the performances of the cultural artistes.


It is not known whether this was the first encounter between Jaishankar and Ali; they could have met at Commonwealth, UN, and Climate summits and the 2018 gatherings of PIO parliamentarians in Delhi. Jaishankar never visited Guyana or the Caribbean , but he is no stranger to Guyanese. He would have known about the history of Indian presence in Guyana and the Caribbean having studied political science and international relations, earning a PhD. While serving as India’s Ambassador to Washington between 2014 and 2015, he met Guyanese in New York at Diwali celebrations and when Modi visited New York in the Fall of 2014. When he served as Foreign Secretary between 2015-18, he interacted with Ravi Dev and me in Delhi at a function (a summit of leading diaspora specialists) organized by MEA in August 2016 to discuss strategies to engage the 32 million strong Indian diaspora. Minister Sushma Swaraj, a mentor of and the person Jaishankar replaced as MEA after she opted not to seek a second term in that office in 2019, chaired the 2016 proceedings. Swaraj, the line Minister for the diaspora, was very engaging in the discussion on diaspora relations. Jaishankar and then UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin spoke at the event and offered wise counsels on engagements with the diaspora. Akbaruddin engaged Guyanese at several functions hosted in NY by the Indian Consulate where there would be a large Guyanese presence. Following the parley on diaspora affairs, Dev and I had separate extensive chat with Jaishankar and India’s Ambassador to the UN Syed Akbaruddin on India’s foreign policy towards Guyana and the Caribbean. Akbaruddin, like Jaishankar, were strong supporters of diaspora policy and of strengthening ties with the Caribbean. The duo endorsed Swaraj’s engagement with experts in each territory of the Indian diaspora. Akbaruddin was more talkative than Jaishankar who appeared more reserved and business like than his UN pal. Akbaruddin was very productive, informed, accomplished, and gifted in his oratory — the kind of diplomats a country craves. Both left a strong impression of their masterful skills in diplomacy.


In his conversations with Dev and I, Jaishankar remarked about his meetings with Guyanese and other Caribbean people.

The two diplomats and Swaraj (a politician) were extremely skilled in diplomacy, among the best I had encountered among the many politicians I met globally in my travels. Swaraj fondly recalled her meetings with President Donald Ramotar. Jaishankar and Akbaruddin were very sharp and eloquent in their comments on the way forward for India to strengthen ties with the diaspora at the summit of experts. They were among the most learned diplomats I met though they were not au fait on the large presence of Indian Caribbeans in several countries including in the Caribbean territories. Jaishankar made a mark for himself in his presentation at the diaspora engagement, and it was not surprising that he was chosen to succeed Swaraj. Akbaruddin had remained at the UN where he continued to shine pushing India’s agenda; he demonstrated that he was among the best Ambassadors of his country.


After the diaspora summit, the discussion on the Caribbean diaspora resumed with Akbaruddin at the Delhi Airport Air India Executive Lounge and on the flight to JFK; Akbaruddin was flying back to New York having come to Delhi for the Diaspora summit.


We (Dev, me and Jaishankar) would meet again at a luncheon in Bangalore in January 2017 at the PBD; Prime Minister Modi hosted lunch for a selective group of us who were invited to share our views on diaspora affairs. The event allowed us to further our conversation with policymakers on the Caribbean and India. Akbaruddin was also there in Bangalore though he was reserved this time around. Both would be forced into retirement as diplomats before the first term of Modi. He joined the faculty as a guest lecturer at a university in Singapore as an international relations expert. I was fortunate to visit Singapore at the time and had the opportunity to listen to him. Though soft spoken, he was strong in his views about national interests and how nations should conduct their foreign policy. He was an excellent speaker, very scholarly and knowledgeable on foreign affairs. Shortly thereafter,  when the BJP won re-election, Jaishankar was invited by PM Modi to join the cabinet succeeding Swaraj who declined a second term in the position.


Since May 2019, Jaishankar has become a seasoned politician and outstanding diplomat, Minister of foreign affairs. That was clearly demonstrated in remarks uttered in public twice in welcoming delegates at PBD and the visiting Presidents and at other functions held at Indore. The delegates and the public chased after Jaishankar for pix. They also mobbed Irfaan and Santokhi for pix. Guyanese at the event, in fact all of the delegates interviewed, spoke glowingly of Jaishankar — Indian Guyanese in the diaspora also admire Jaishankar. Everyone this writer interviewed in India about Jaishankar spoke positively of him. He has represented India with an excellent approval rating, perhaps the highest rating of all public figures. In India, almost everyone admired him.


Foreign Ministers and world leaders have taken note of Jaishankar’s words on matters pertaining to Ukraine, Climate change, Covid 19, among other global issues, He does not mince words when it comes to India’s self interests and in championing developing countries (The South). Ravi Dev and I had the good fortune of engaging Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Delhi some years ago. He was foreign secretary at the time, and he created quite an impression in our minds, causing us to seek him out for an extensive discussion. He is a remarkable, polished, well spoken, skillfully adept, well-rounded diplomat; he came across sharp and serious about his job. He is among the best diplomats I met from India. Guyana’s diplomats should emulate him. Guyana should send its diplomats for training at the same school as Jaishankar.


At PBD, there appeared to be smooth, productive interaction between Irfaan and Jaishankar.  It is hoped that their relationship will bear fruits for Guyana and the Caribbean – in economic development, strategic defense partnership, cooperation in several areas including energy, and strengthening relations with Guyana. It is hoped that Jaishankar will visit India this year — an invitation was extended to him and to the PM. 

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.