Ambassador Rajiv Kumar Chander is the new Consul General of India in Vancouver, who took charge in August, 2015. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1983 after obtaining degrees in History and Law. His first assignment abroad was at the Embassy of India, Moscow. Before being posted in Vancouver, Ambassador Chander was appointed as Ambassador of India to Ukraine from July 2011 to July, 2015. As the Consul General of India in Vancouver, he shares that he has been touched by the warm reception accorded to him and his family by the community and talks about his plans for the Indian community here.
Why did you decide to get into Foreign Service?
I have been fortunate to have lived in different parts of India as my father, who was a government official, had a transferable job. The growing up years spent in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Meghalaya and Punjab gave me an exposure to the wonderful diversity that exists in India and more importantly, the respect and tolerance that we Indians have for different cultures, religions and languages. This experience no doubt prepared me for the life of a diplomat in an even richer and more diverse world. After doing my History (Honours) and Law from Panjab University, Chandigarh, I fulfilled my cherished objective of joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1983.
How did you feel when you became the Consul General of India in Vancouver?
The feeling of joy when you get what you want! The feeling of anticipation that one would be part of a large Indian community, the largest of all places I have served in, and of pride in the fact that it has achieved so much and integrated itself in a manner that has enriched the socio-economic fabric of Western Canada.
How has your experience been so far as part of the Vancouver consulate?
It’s been a wonderful couple of months that I have spent here in the one of the world’s most lively cities. I am also told that the weather has been exceptionally kind this year for which I am grateful. One has been touched by the warm reception accorded to me and my family by the community.
What plans do you have for the growth of the consulate in Vancouver?
Along with my colleagues from the Consulate, I had an informal get-together with several Indian associations as well as those promoting Indo-Canadian business relations. These interactions gave me an idea of the range of activities that the community is engaged in and I do hope to be able to reach out to others in the B.C. area as well as in other provinces of Western Canada in the coming days. The Consulate has been constantly trying to improve its consular services and this would be a continuing endeavour on our part. We have also held consular camps in different parts of our consular jurisdiction. Ideally, we would like to have more public space available at the Consulate that would facilitate greater interaction with the community.
What is the biggest strength of Indians living here?
The community has numerous achievers who have distinguished themselves in different fields, be it arts, science or business. The community has maintained strong ties with India and contributed immensely to bringing our countries closer together. As India is poised to grow economically and modernize itself rapidly, I am sure that the skills, resources and capabilities of the community can play a positive role in India’s march forward. The `Make In India` initiative, Clean Ganga campaign and Smart Cities project come readily to mind.
What plans do you have for the Indians in Vancouver?
I know about the various cultural events and other festivities that are regularly organized by the numerous cultural and other associations in Vancouver. It would be great if there is one event annually where all can come together to showcase their talent for everyone to appreciate, including their Canadian friends. Sporting events can be exciting opportunities to come together and spend some time, besides staying healthy! Obviously, I do not have a monopoly on ideas and we would be more than happy to get suggestions from the community associations and interested individuals.
How has your journey been so far in the Foreign Service?
For my wife Dr. Shalini, daughter Shireen and myself, it has been a fascinating journey over the years through many lands that has now brought us to the shores of Vancouver. We witnessed many countries and societies in transition as we did during my last posting in Ukraine and earlier in Nepal. My first posting was in the Soviet Union that no longer exists!
What are the things you like best and worst about your job? T
The one abiding impression that we have is of the deep interest and appreciation of India`s culture and philosophy, and recognition of and indeed respect for our credentials as the world`s largest democracy. Interestingly, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where I have had several occasions to visit or serve in, Bollywood or Indian films have woven such an emotional bond with India that it has to be seen to be believed.
The fact that one had to leave behind such wonderful friends after every three to four years was particularly uprooting, but thanks to the wonderful world of the social media we now continue to inhabit the same social space and feel connected.
What is your most memorable moment in the Service?
The security situation in Ukraine, where I was posted as Ambassador, deteriorated in the beginning of 2014. A war-like situation was developing in eastern Ukraine where some 1,000 Indian students and a few other Indian citizens were located. On instructions of the Government of India, the Embassy was able to safely evacuate them to the capital Kyiv at short notice and just in the nick of time. The local Indian community joined hands with the Embassy to ensure that the 1,000, mostly young, Indians were well-cared for during their stay in Kyiv before proceeding to India. The fact that the evacuation proceeded smoothly and no one was injured was a matter of satisfaction to all those involved in the process.
Do share your views on the flourishing Indo-Canadian relations.
Our bilateral relations have never looked healthier than after the very successful visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India to Canada in April this year, which included a schedule for him in Vancouver as well. Several agreements were signed, including one relating to the supply of uranium from Saskatchewan to India. The introduction of the Electronic Tourist Visa for Canadian citizens was announced during the visit. There have been several delegations from India to this part of Canada after April 2015 that attests to the positive momentum imparted by the visit.