Navdeep Suri on the way to Canberra as India’s new High Commissioner

Navdeep Sury HC


Navdeep Suri, who was ambassador to  Egypt, will now head to  Canberra  as the High Commissioner of India in Australia. He was earlier with the Public Diplomacy division at the MEA headquarters in New Delhi.

Born in Amritsar in 1959, Mr. Suri studied at Guru Nanak University with a Masters degree in Economics and married his soul mate Mani in 1984. He qualified for Indian Civil Service in 1983 and went to his first diplomatic assignment to Cairo in 1984. He joined Arabic language classes at the American university in Cairo with on-the-job training and a further year of work at the embassy’s press and cultural office.

This was followed by a three-year stint in Damascus as he mentions in his profile, “It is truly heartbreaking to see the state to which Syria has been reduced. We have the fondest memories of Damascus and Aleppo, two of the oldest, most historic cities on the planet. It was also the time of the first Gulf war that followed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. We had already completed our tenure and our baggage had been shipped out when war broke. We spent the next two months in Damascus living out of our suitcases and monitoring the deteriorating situation..”

He returned to Delhi in March 1991 and worked in the newly created “Economic Coordination Unit”. India’s famous economic reforms came a few months later and gave everyone working in the government  an  opportunity to redefine India’s economic diplomacy. “It was an exciting time, and I got closely associated with our efforts to project India as an investment destination. The first set of doing business with India brochures were produced by our department, along with a pioneering 5.25 inch floppy disk that contained essential features of the new policy regime. We also coordinated India’s first ever investment promotion conferences in Singapore, Los Angeles and New York. They were, in a sense, a paradigm shift from reluctantly ‘allowing’ FDI to openly welcoming it.”

He then moved to the Indian Embassy in Washington DC in 1993 and was primarily responsible for liaising with the US Congress. Those were delicate times for India’s relations with the US and we often found ourselves up against well-organized Kashmiri and Khalistani lobbies. The emergence of a strong India Caucus in the House of Representatives during that period was a major milestone for the efforts of the Indian American community to become a force for a better bilateral relationship.

Then followed a stint in Tanzania. London was next in 2000 and Mr. Suri worked as spokesperson and head of the press office at the Indian High Commission in Aldwych. He worked with the British media, the London-based representatives of Indian publications and TV channels, and the diverse publications that catered to the requirements of the large Indian community in UK. The period saw major media stories including the Gujarat riots, the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and the nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan and he  became quite accustomed to the frequent trips to BBC TV and radio studios and also to Channel 4, Sky News and others in an effort to put across India’s  perspective on complex issues. Says Mr Sury in his profile, “I also used this period to work on the translation of my grandfather Nanak Singh’s classic Punjabi novel “Pavitra Paapi”.

He returned from London to be the head of the West Africa division of the Ministry of External Affairs. This was a relatively neglected part of the world from India’s diplomatic perspective and our relations with Francophone Africa were at a particularly low ebb. Says Mr Suri, “I traveled extensively through the 25 countries in the region ranging from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south and laid the groundwork for the re-opening of the Indian mission in Democratic Republic of Congo and the opening of new missions in Mali and Niger. This gave us an improved footprint in the region and also sent out a clear signal that India cares about its relationship with the region.

“This was also an important juncture for India’s economic diplomacy in the region. Working closely with CII, we laid the foundation of the first India-Africa Conclave on project partnerships. Over the years, this has become the dominant platform for enhancing our economic relationship with Africa. The annual event typically attracts over 500 African delegates including heads of state and government, ministers, bankers, chambers of commerce and corporate leaders.”

“It was also the time when we started to put in place the architecture of the India-Africa Forum summit and the ambitious Pan-African e-network project. Embodying the vision of President APJ Abdul Kalam, the network connects leading Indian universities and hospitals with African counterparts to provide the benefits of tele-education and tele-medicine.”

Karachi followed and then Johannesburg where his three year assignment from 2006 to 2009 was a period to focus on economic and commercial work. South Africa is one of India’s principal trading partners in Africa and an increasingly important source of minerals like coal.

Back to India in 2009 Mr Suri took charge of the relatively new Public Diplomacy division and was fortunate to attend a very useful conference on PD in Wilton Park and also attend the really intensive summer school at the Centre for Public Diplomacy in USC, Los Angeles. The two events provided him with both the theoretical framework and the first-hand knowledge of best practices to embark upon a series of changes that were considered quite radical in the context of our ministry and our government.

Suri’s profile says, “The first was to introduce Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels as an integral part of our PD efforts. All audio-visual material was digitized and a particularly useful partnership with Google helped us create a significant platform on YouTube. The Indian diplomacy accounts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were all created in 2010 and became the beacon for other government departments to embrace social media.”

“The efforts won swift recognition and we received two important awards for most innovative use of e-governance in our work. Our department’s expertize in a relatively new area was sought by others and one study placed us among the top five foreign offices in making effective use of social media.”

Then back again in August 2009 appointed as Ambassador to Egypt, the Suri family now heads to Canberra soon. His wife Mani has used her husband’s stints at various locations to her advantage as well completing a degree in Communication Design and in Africa she studied pottery and ceramics and produced an exhibition of her works.

Suris have two daughters older daughter Manveena is a journalist in London. Jessleena, the younger one, stays in South Africa to pursue her passion for the environment.

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