Her responsibilities, surely, go beyond the sepulchral. Maniratnam, one of the 215 honorary consuls in India, is responsible for the citizens of Luxembourg and has been helping to forge links between the South Indian and European film industries. Honorary consuls are not career diplomats. They are usually citizens of the host country, where they live, work and pay taxes. They are designated by a foreign government to look after the affairs of its citizens.
It is not just a former star that is on the list of honorary consuls in India. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), they include high-profile businesspeople — Dabur India chairman Vivek Burman is the honorary consul general of Nicaragua in Delhi, founder and chairman emeritus of Max Group Analjit Singh is honorary consul of San Marino in Delhi, and Aditya Birla Group director Rajashree Birla is honorary consul general of the Philippines in Mumbai.
KL Ganju, a former Delhi exporter, is an honorary consul general of Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, since 2005. He is the only diplomatic representative of the Francophone nation in India.“The president of Comoros himself met me and invited me to take on the role of honorary consul,” says Ganju, who has over the years gone well beyond his brief to forge stronger relations between India and Comoros, which is located strategically in the Mozambique Channel.
However, it’s not just smaller countries that depend on honorary consuls. Rajive Kaul, chairman of Kolkata-based Nicco, has been the honorary consul general of the Republic of Korea in eastern India since 1998. “Though none of the Korean companies has large projects in eastern India yet, I consider the opening of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Kolkata last year as one of my biggest successes,” says Kaul, who is responsibile for looking after Korean assets and people in India’s eastern states.
“I am delighted to see so many youngsters from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana going to Germany,” says Reddy.
The process of finding a suitable candidate for the position of an honorary consul is rather tough. While there are international consultancy firms that specialise in helping people get honorary consular appointments, a candidate could be directly approached by the foreign service of a country. MEA’s approval is essential before the formal appointment.
Nils Ragnar Kamsvag, Norwegian ambassador to India, says, “For Norway, honorary consuls are often tied to a business that has a natural connection to Norwegian companies, such as shipping.” Arvind Gopinath has been Norway’s honorary consul in Chennai for the last 18 years. “My family has strong links with the shipping industry. Many Norwegian companies have been recruiting crew from South India and I provide them with certificates of endorsement before they send in applications,” he says.
Arun Vasu, chairman of Chennaibased TT Group, which runs diverse businesses, is the honorary consul of Sweden for South India. His mother, from whom he took over responsibilities, is Swedish. “As kids, we have had the privilege of visiting Sweden every summer,” says Vasu, whose responsibilities include assisting any Swede in India who requires help in an emergency and in addressing trade enquiries.
Rajju Shroff, who has been honorary consul of Mexico in Mumbai since 1998, is the executive chairman of agricultural products company UPL that has large business interests in Mexico. He is bullish about trade and commercial ties between the two countries. “Our consulate goes out of the way to help Mexican tourists in India. Besides, Mexico too is an attractive tourist destination,” he says.
It is an interesting role in the diplomatic community, as foreign assets in home country.
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