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Diplomacy and Discipline

Apr/08/2024 / by Abhijit Masih and Jaswant Lalwani

As the first female Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj is breaking barriers

Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj

In the domain of global diplomacy, Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj stands out as a pioneer, shattering barriers and leaving an indelible mark on history. As the first female Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, her professional trajectory isn’t merely a political story; instead, it is a rich tapestry interwoven with discipline, resolve, and a profound link to India’s cultural legacy. In an engaging conversation, Ambassador Kamboj shares profound insights into her remarkable life and diplomatic career, leaving us with a vivid portrait of her experiences.

Ambassador Kamboj has a definite presence – you see it from a mile off. From head to toe in mostly white or pastel shalwar kameez, she’s striking in her approach. She exudes confidence, style, elegance, charm, and decorum and that’s just the beginning.

The Ambassador gives a glimpse into her early life, shaped by a military background and the profound influence of her mother, a Sanskrit scholar. Reflecting on the loss of her father at a young age, she says, “My father did give me the Indian Foreign Service dream.” This dream became her own, propelling her into a career that spans over three decades. Describing her mother as “everything” to her, Ambassador Kamboj emphasizes the strength and courage instilled by her.

Success in clearing the civil services exam in India is no easy feat. It’s a dream that many aspire to realize but only a few are successful in achieving. Ambassador Kamboj was the lady topper for the year. Expressing gratitude for her achievements, she notes, “I consider myself extremely blessed and lucky.” These formative experiences lay the foundation for her illustrious diplomatic career.

Embarking on her diplomatic journey, Ambassador Kamboj reflects on her assignment in Paris from 1988 to 1991. Recounting the allure of the city, she muses, “Paris, for me, was quite the adventure.” Her description of the city as rich in art and culture reflects the profound impact it had on her as a young diplomat. “Paris has been a gathering point for poets, writers, artists,” she says, encapsulating the city’s timeless charm. She soaked all this in while performing her diplomatic duties. That impression seared into her consciousness which has now become an integral part of her personality.

There have been many firsts in the life of Ambassador Kamboj which we discover as we unfold the chapters of her diplomatic career. She was India’s first lady chief of protocol, India’s first female Ambassador to Bhutan, first female Representative of India to the United Nations and in December last year, she was also the first female Indian lady to be the president of the Security Council. “I can say with certainty that it has been wonderful to serve as a woman diplomat for my country. There is no greater honor, no greater pride. These were all hitherto male bastions, but a woman did achieve all of this. So, I think there can be no stronger statement that if you have it in you, if you are willing to work hard, it is indeed wonderful to be a woman,” she attributes her success to maintaining a strong discipline. Through her career graph and accomplishments, she proves that if you are willing to work hard you can surmount all the male arenas and achieve these as a woman. She also firmly believes and is convinced that today is the best time to be a woman in India. 

After serving as India’s first female Ambassador to Bhutan and the Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, she went back to Paris as UNESCO’s Ambassador. Sharing insights into her second visit to Paris, she describes it as equally rewarding. “My tenure at UNESCO was very memorable. We had many inscriptions. We showcased the great and glorious Indian culture in a city that is known for its own charm and beauty, which is unparalleled. And I shall look upon those UNESCO years as a very wonderful part of my career as well,” she says.

She was fortunate to have learned French in the Indian Foreign Service – it was mandatory to master at least one foreign language. She was already familiar with the language before she got posted to Paris. Quoting Ernest Hemingway, she captured the essence of Paris, stating, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris when you were young that never goes away from you, as Paris is a moveable feast.”  She remembers with nostalgia those memorable Parisian years. 

There was a significant time in her life when she was called back to India on a special assignment for the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. She naturally accepted as she had been India’s first lady Chief of Protocol earlier. Her role in this prestigious swearing in was innate to her personality. Describing those days as “action-packed and intense,” she expresses honor and pride in being part of that historic moment. “That was indeed very special and quite historic. I got a call saying that you are required to come back to Delhi to be part of the swearing in ceremony,” she explains. Taking the red eye flight to the capital of India she reached for the historic moment. “I was very honored, privileged and proud to be a part of that slice of history,” she admits.

The Ambassador has also had a deep involvement in arts and culture, from curating events like “The Voice of Banaras” to contributing to the inscription of UNESCO’s heritage sites. She played an integral part in the India Africa Forum Summit in 2015 where India showcased the textile heritage of India. “It was really a matter of great pride and honor because we were curating something for the first ladies of Africa and showcasing the incredible textile heritage of India,” she remarked.

Ambassador Kamboj has also been instrumental in inscribing many Indian heritages by UNESCO. During her tenure, a historic three Indian sites were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. “We inscribed many UNESCO sites, and I was particularly honored that Nalanda University, which is a magnificent reminder to us of India’s civilization and heritage, was inscribed in my time,” she spoke with pride about the inclusion of the ancient university dating back to the third century BC.

Her passion for showcasing India’s cultural richness comes to life in her account of making Yoga a part of India’s cultural heritage. In December 2016, this issue was addressed in Addis Ababa and agreed upon that Yoga must be inscribed as the intangible ancestral heritage of India. Reminiscing the momentous occasion she shared, “It is etched very firmly in my mind because the Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was unanimous that Yoga must be inscribed as such,” she recalls. “One of the delegates stood up and said, how can yoga not be inscribed? Because while it may be from India, it belongs to humanity today. And those were very memorable moments,” she adds.

In 2022, she formally assumed the position of Ambassador/Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations. She is the first woman from India to hold this prestigious position. In June last year, she spearheaded India’s initiative to establish a Guinness World Record for a Yoga session with the maximum nationalities present at the UN headquarters in New York. The historic occasion was also graced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Speaking about her current assignment in New York, Ambassador Kamboj expressed admiration for the energizing metropolis. Like many, she considers New York City as one of the most electrifying cities. “I’m a fan of New York City. I think it is one of the most vibrant metropolises. There is something for everybody here. Long walks, theater, music, dance, finance, cuisine, shopping. New York has it all,” she remarked. It also has the UN Headquarters, where she is firmly ensconced. Despite her busy schedule, she shares, “I have walked the streets of New York, and I think with every walk, I discover something new and enjoy the vibrancy and the beauty.”

The Ambassador has been fortunate to be in various countries in some role or the other. Does she have a specific country or city that captivates her imagination? Her response, in a heartbeat, is entirely expected. “Without a doubt, it has to be New Delhi, India. It is the city where I grew up and what I call home. Also let me say that Delhi, as many people say, is not just a city, it is an emotion,” she explains her love and longing for the capital city of India.

The political and economic successes of India is being acknowledged by the world but culturally, what is the one thing that she would like to see that elevates India’s global reputation? Her quick response: “The Bhagavad Gita, for centuries it has uplifted and touched many souls. Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, all of them have been influenced by the wisdom and knowledge contained in the pages of the Gita. I think this is India’s best kept secret” she states emphasizing the deserved reverence for it. 

Ambassador Kamboj identifies discipline as the key quality that propelled her and her career, apart from her evident charm, intelligence, education, and charismatic personality. “Honestly, I think discipline, is the architect of achievement and leads the foundation for success,” she asserts, emphasizing the impact of her mother and the values instilled in her early years.

As far as future aspirations and assignments go, the Ambassador doesn’t plan but rather wants to concentrate on the important job on hand and wants the surprise to remain about her next international destination. “Right now, I’m in the thick of things and there’s hardly a moment to spare. I enjoyed this phase of my life. And in future, as they say, who knows? We shall go with the flow.” 

Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj’s story is not just a diplomatic journey; it’s a testament to the resilience, discipline, and cultural pride that define her. Through her eloquent reflections, she invites us into a world where diplomacy is not just a profession, but a journey marked by dedication, passion, and a deep-rooted connection to India’s cultural heritage. Taking a line from the Gita, she sums up her personal and professional journey. “Life and death do not matter. It is what you do with it, and it is only karma or duty that can set you free. So that has inspired me, and I have told myself that I will work with grace and dignity and love till the very end.”

PQ Suggestions

I can say with certainty that it has been wonderful to serve as a woman diplomat for my country. There is no greater honor, no greater pride. 

If you have it in you, if you are willing to work hard, it is indeed wonderful to be a woman 

I was very honored, privileged and proud to be a part of that slice of history.

I think discipline is the architect of achievement and leads the foundation for success.

I will work with grace and dignity and love till the very end.


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