I recently drove on Alexander Kadakin road in Chankyapuri in Delhi. Kadakin was a Russian diplomat who spent two decades of his diplomatic career in Delhi; first, as a Soviet diplomat, and, later, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as its successor state, the Russian Federation’s envoy in Delhi.
He was immensely popular in India which he called his “karma bhoomi”. Kadakin was the Russian ambassador to India between 1999-2004 and then from 2009 till he died in Delhi in 2017. Kadakin was fluent in Hindi among other languages that he knew well.
His diplomatic abilities ensured that he successfully navigated India-Soviet relations and later India-Russian ties through changes in governments in India as well in his own country. Equally important, he contributed to keeping bilateral ties during a period of immense global changes which impacted on the orientations and ambitions of India and Russia.
While Delhi has many roads named after foreign leaders Kadakin is perhaps the only foreign diplomat who served in Delhi who has a road named after him.
This is a signal recognition of the great impression which he made on the Indian political class and the wide admiration he generally evoked in India because of the deep understanding and empathy he had developed for India in its various facets.
The fact that Moscow, even as Russia changed, kept him in India for so many long years also shows that it had full faith in his ability to ensure its national interest.
Clearly, Moscow did not perceive that Kadakin had developed what in diplomatese is colloquially called ‘localitis’. Often, if a diplomat who has served for a long period in a foreign country and is seen by the foreign ministry of his home state to suggest measures which are perceived as serving more the interests of the state to which he is accredited rather than his home country he is looked upon with suspicion.
He is ‘condemned’ as a victim of ‘localitis’ and ways are found to end his diplomatic assignment.
In Kadakin’s case this was obviously not so. Indeed, the Kremlin would have obviously assessed his popularity in India as an asset to the promotion of Russia’s interests even as Delhi would have had confidence in his ability to project its views to his government fairly, objectively and effectively.
No wonder not only was a road named after him in Delhi he was also posthumously conferred the Padma Bhushan award by the Modi government.
I have dwelt on Kadakin because it shows that even in an age in which leaders are in direct contact with each other, diplomats, especially ambassadors, can be effective in influencing relations between states.
They act as not only ‘the eyes and ears’ of their countries but help in navigating relationships to keep them on an even keel if not move them upwards.
They can only do so if their own country feels that they are effective in influencing the leaders of their country to which they are posted. Likewise, the leaders of the country in which an ambassador is serving have to possess the confidence that he/she has influence with his/her own country’s leaders and can thereby deliver results in small and big matters without compromising the interests of his/her own country.
The true test of a good ambassador is therefore two fold: one, his/her ability to deliver results in the country of his/her posting and, two, the respect he/her has in his own country so that his/her views are taken seriously by his/her own leaders.
Often, he/she is judged by moving his/her system unconventionally in crunch situations. In such cases an ambassador cannot rely only on the traditional route of communication through the foreign ministry of his/her own state. This writer faced such a situation during his assignment in Kabul as India’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
One Friday evening he was approached by the director of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office who conveyed a most urgent request from Karzai himself. A very senior member of Karzai’s administration who had gotten a heart by-pass a month ago in Britain began to complain of discomfort in his chest.
Medical facilities in Kabul being limited, an immediate evacuation of the person to any neighbouring state was suggested by Kabul doctors. Karzai’s people suggested to the person that he could be sent to Iran, Pakistan, Turkey or India for a medical evaluation and treatment.
The person said that his preference was to go to India. Hence, I was told that an Afghan airlines aircraft was available which could take the person to India that night itself. I was requested to arrange for his immediate admission in an appropriate hospital in Delhi.
Naturally, I immediately called the senior officials dealing with Afghanistan in the External Affairs Ministry in Delhi but they were not available and the Foreign Secretary was on a tour abroad.
With these natural channels blocked I could only ensure that Karzai’s request was met by adopting unconventional means. I happened to personally know the then Vice Chief of the Army Staff very well. So I called him around 7.30 pm Indian time.
Fortunately, I got through to him and requested that arrangements be made for the Afghan dignitary in the Armed Forces top medical institution in Delhi–the R&R hospital which also sent an ambulance to take him from the Delhi airport straight to the hospital. This was done. Thanks to the Vice Chief my stock in Kabul went up and that increased my access to the Afghan government and effectiveness in Kabul.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.