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Kuwait-India ties have blossomed into a dynamic partnership: George

By Sajeev Peter

KUWAIT: Indian Ambassador Sibi George is leaving Kuwait shortly and assuming charge as India’s new envoy to Japan. The one-million-strong Indian diaspora in Kuwait is surely going to miss him as their favorite ambassador who brought the embassy closer to the community with his pathbreaking community outreach programs and radical reforms in consular services.

A seasoned diplomat, George also helped push India-Kuwait bilateral relations to a new level of dynamic partnership with his skillful diplomacy and charismatic aura. The India government conferred on him the S K Singh Award for Excellence in Indian Foreign Service (IFS). He also holds a diploma in Arabic from the American University in Cairo.

In a farewell interview with Kuwait Times, the ambassador spoke on the fascinating stint he had in Kuwait and shared his views on topics ranging from Kuwait-India relations, community outreach programs and matters related to the Indian diaspora. Excerpts:

Kuwait Times: You are leaving Kuwait just after two years of assuming the post as India’s ambassador. In the region, you have served Indian missions in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Egypt before taking over as India’s ambassador to Kuwait. How do you look at your Kuwait experience?

Extended neighborhood

George: As a young diplomat, I chose this region as my specialization. I am happy that as a diplomat I spent a considerable time of my career in this part of the world, which is India’s extended neighborhood. I always received a very warm welcome in all these countries. In fact, India has excellent bilateral relations with each of these countries. I am happy that I have also been able to make my contributions in further strengthening India’s relationship with countries in this region.

Talking about Kuwait, it was indeed an excellent tenure for me. Despite the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to make substantive progress in our bilateral relationship by further strengthening our multifaceted and long-standing dynamic partnership. Last year, we had the visit of the foreign minister of Kuwait to India and return visit of the external affairs minister of India to Kuwait. We established a high-level joint commission meeting and also held meetings of three joint working groups dealing with manpower, health sector and hydrocarbons. We were able to rekindle the relationship with a new roadmap, which is currently under implementation.

Kuwait Times: As you always say, ‘people-to-people relations’ form the core of the bilateral ties between India and Kuwait. India-Kuwait bilateral relations have grown into a dynamic partnership over the last two years through high-level engagement. How do you assess this partnership?

George: The leaderships of our two countries have given a clear mandate and roadmap for us to further strengthen our relationship. I am happy that during my tenure in Kuwait, I have been received warmly by the leadership of the country. I held regular meetings at the highest level including with honorable ministers of the Cabinet regularly. We were able to make progress in each of the identified areas of cooperation in our bilateral relations.

Time-tested ties

Our ties are time-tested. They have been built over strong foundations by our peoples over centuries based on mutual trust and respect. Over time, nurtured by vibrant people-to-people connect and civilizational affinities, the ties have blossomed into a forward-looking dynamic partnership. We both are committed to further strengthening our bilateral relationship. Our political, economic and cultural engagements continue to grow despite the pandemic-related challenges. Our leadership is in regular touch through visits, meetings and telephone exchanges. Our dialogue mechanisms including joint working groups hold regular meetings.

Today, we have a forward-looking roadmap and action plan to simultaneously engage our Kuwaiti friends and the Indian community to transform our relationship into a new age, new India-New Kuwait partnership connecting the visions of the leadership of our two friendly countries and building upon our people-to-people connect. I am confident that this relationship will continue to strengthen in the coming months and years.

Kuwait Times:  What are your most cherished memories of Kuwait?  Tell us about your association with Kuwaiti friends, life in Kuwait, its culture, tradition and food?

George: I always felt at home in Kuwait. There is a lot of traditional and family connect that Kuwait has with India. Almost every family in Kuwait has a positive story of engagement its forefathers had with India. This personal connect is strengthened by the cultural connect and the similarity in food. Many of the dishes in Kuwait have an Indian flavor, influence and history. I always enjoyed the many visits I had with Kuwaiti families. The warmth with which I was received by every Kuwaiti family is something I cherish.

KUWAIT: Ambassador Sibi George with his wife Joice Sibi and their children.


Challenging times

I came to Kuwait at a crucial time when we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two friendly countries. I then decided to organize 600 cultural and business events in Kuwait to celebrate the 60th anniversary. It appeared to be a major challenge, particularly because we were in the middle of the pandemic. I am so happy to note that we were able to exceed the expectations and organize several hundred events in Kuwait during the last two years.

I thank the Kuwaiti authorities, particularly NCCAL, which joined hands with the embassy in organizing several joint events during the anniversary year. I am also thankful to Indian associations and groups, which organized hundreds of events under the banner of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and celebrated the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Kuwait. The wholehearted support that I received from the community in celebrating India in Kuwait is something I cherish every day.

Kuwait Times: You arrived in Kuwait at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak? How did you manage to address the challenges faced by the Indian community?

George: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 and 2021 have been very difficult years for the community and also for the embassy. Almost all of my staff at the embassy got infected with COVID at some point of time including me and my family. But when I look back today, the way the Indian community joined hands with the embassy in its efforts to fight the pandemic is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. We should always remember the many sacrifices made by our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in saving lives of many people in Kuwait. We were also able to address the many concerns that our children and their parents had by organizing JEE, NATA and NEET examinations for the first time in Kuwait. These are the memories that I will always treasure.

Kuwait Times: You have brought about a plethora of positive changes to the embassy, making its services more accessible to people. How do you look at these reforms?

George: One of the important elements of India-Kuwait partnership is the presence of the large Indian community in Kuwait. They are engaged in various professions here, covering the entire spectrum of Kuwait’s economic fabric. We have many successful businessmen, both big and small, we have highly successful CEOs and CFOs, we have very highly talented doctors and engineers, we have nurses and other medical professionals, we have large number of middle management personnel and skilled and semiskilled employees. We also have a large number of domestic workers.

As the ambassador, it has been my solemn responsibility to engage with this wide spectrum of Indian community, which is large, which has many desires, aspirations and expectations. The regular open houses that we organized helped us to connect with the community more closely. It has been my responsibility to help them meet the many challenges they face and provide them with the best possible consular services. This is what we endeavored to achieve. Each of these different strata of society was able to connect with the embassy and considered the embassy as their home away from home.


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