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New Indian envoy looks for constructive engagement with New Zealand

Praneeta Mahajan

Praneeta Mahajan

Hamilton, 8 December 2022

Neeta Bhushan: Fresh ideas for qualitative engagement

Promoting India as a popular destination for investors and businesses, closer cooperation on bilateral issues, improved consular, cultural and other services, programmes for the younger members of the society and closer interaction with the community across the country are among the priorities of Neeta Bhushan, the newly appointed High Commissioner of India.

Describing her tenure as the Head of the Indian Mission in Wellington as propitious, she said that she has taken charge as India’s envoy to New Zealand at a time when both countries are examining ways and means of strengthening their relations and addressing common challenges and problems, as the economies begin to recover from the adverse effects of the Covid pandemic.

Wellington is her first posting as the High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary and with concurrent posts as the Non-Resident High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu, she is hopeful of promoting stronger political, economic and social ties.

Propitious tenure

“My appointment as the High Commissioner of India to New Zealand is a high point in my career and comes at a time when the two countries are marking 70 years of diplomatic relations and India has just completed celebrating the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ or the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence. We will continue to explore opportunities to expand our relations for the mutual benefit of our respective peoples,” she said.

Ms Bhushan was talking to Indian Newslink during an interview at her office in Wellington.

The new, $90 million Chancery Complex on Pipitea Street near the New Zealand Parliament is a new landmark in the Capital. Ms Bhushan arrived in Wellington and presented her credentials to the Governor-General in time for the visit of External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who officially inaugurated the building on October 9, 2022.

“Dr Jaishankar’s visit marked an important turning point in India-New Zealand relationships. He emphasised greater mobility of people, meaning that India has a large and young workforce with skills to match the needs of New Zealand. India can offer effective solutions to the skills shortage. We have signed Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreements including Letters of Intent with many countries,” she said, signalling that India will be willing to work with the New Zealand government in meeting its needs for talent.

Promoting business partnerships

Ms Bhushan invited New Zealand companies to work closely with their Indian counterparts in various sectors of her country’s growing economy.

In an earlier speech, she said, “We need to work towards mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations in various sectors. Apart from agriculture and forestry trade, we can look at deepening collaborations in Agri-tech, Fin-tech, Education and renewable energy sectors. India has a large untapped youth population.

Ms Bhushan identified five principal areas of engagement. They are Strengthening Connectivity, Tourism, Telecom and Digitalisation, Research and Development, Education and Traditional Medicine.

“We have a lot to offer to many industries including but not limited to agriculture, technology, Fintech, Dairy and other avenues. We need to move forward together and I am optimistic that we will succeed,” she said.

G20 Presidency and Global Leadership

India assumed charge as the President of the G20 Summit, which will be held in New Delhi in September 2023. A Special G20 Division has been established within the External Affairs Ministry with former Indian High Commissioner Muktesh Pardeshi as the Officer on Special Duty in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially took charge of the G20 at a ceremony held in Bali, Indonesia on December 1, 2022.

Mr Modi said that India’s year-long G20 Presidency will be “inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented. It will encourage an honest conversation on mitigating risks posed by weapons of mass destruction and enhancing global security,” he said.

Ms Bhushan said that India has been consistently promoting values of peace and harmony on the world stage and quoted Mr Modi as saying that “India looks forward to the presidency of G20 as healing, harmony and hope. Our G-20 Presidency theme itself is ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam- The World is One Family.”

India takes charge of G20: Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Bali on November 15, 2022 (Getty Images by Leon Neal)

UN Security Council

India assumed the monthly rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on December 1, 2022, the second in its two-year tenure as an elected Member of the Council in 2021-22.

Ms Bhushan said that two signature events will be held this month on ‘Reformed Multilateralism’ and ‘Counter-Terrorism.’

“On December 14, 2022, India will conduct a high-level open debate on ‘Maintenance of International Peace and Security: New Orientation for Reformed Multilateralism,’ which envisages reforms in the current multilateral architecture with the UN at its centre, to make it more representative and fit for purpose.

“On December 15, 2022, a special session will be held on ‘Threats to International peace and Security caused by Terrorist Acts: Global Approach to Counter-Terrorism- Challenges and the Way Forward.’ Both events will be chaired by Dr Jaishankar,” Ms Bhushan said.

She said that India hosted the third ‘No Money for Terror’ Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing in New Delhi on November 18 and November 19, 2022. Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the two-day conference attended by 93 countries and multilateral organisations, while Home Minister Amit Shah delivered the concluding remarks.

Connecting with the Youth

Ms Bhushan said that it was heartening that people of Indian origin and members of other communities are evincing interest in India’s arts and culture and that she is keen to encourage and promote them in New Zealand.

“We would endeavour to work with the local communities to increase awareness of our culture, language, traditions and festival. We will be happy to work with Indian Newslink to involve more young people in social initiatives through outreach programmes in various cities across New Zealand. I would also encourage parents to work with the High Commission and this publication to increase their participation. I would like to start a dialogue on how we can provide support to our young people,” she said.

The High Commission now has the in-house expertise of a Yoga Master with the appointment of Ankita Sood as Culture and Yoga Attache about three months ago.

Ms Bhushan said that the Yoga classes conducted by the High Commission at its complex and at schools and universities have been helping to spread the awareness and benefits of practising Yoga and breathing techniques.

“Our young people are also taught breathing techniques and meditation, helping them to overcome stress and fatigue and enhancing the power of their mind, body and soul,” she said.

Women Diplomats score

Ms Bhushan is the first female diplomat appointed to lead the Indian High Commission, while our neighbouring countries such as Australia and Fiji have had female High Commissioners from India in recent years.

According to The Diplomat, there were 815 Officers borne on the cadre of the Indian Foreign Service (career diplomats), of which 176 were women. Nineteen women are currently serving as Heads of Missions in various countries. The first female Indian diplomat (C B Muthamma) was appointed to the IFS in 1949 and since 2001, three women (Chokila Iyer, Nirupama Menon Rao and Sujatha Singh) have distinguished themselves as great diplomats, rising to the post of Foreign Secretary, the highest in the Service.

Ms Bhushan has been an IFS Officer since 1994 and has undertaken various assignments in India’s missions abroad and at the External Affairs Ministry and Finance Ministry.

She said that she is happy to see the increasing number of women in diplomacy worldwide.

“I was fortunate to attend a meeting of women diplomats in Wellington recently and I was happy to learn that about 30% of Heads of Missions in Wellington are women. This is a great reflection of how women have been performing in international and geo-political relations,” she said.

Ms Bhushan believes that women bring more empathy and compassion to the role as Head of Mission.

“Intuitively, they can combine soft skills with technical knowledge, which is a massive strength in any diplomatic situation,” she said.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink correspondent based in Hamilton.

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