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In Shankar Bajpai's Passing Away, India Loses An Outstanding Diplomat
After he retired from government service in 1986, Shankar transitioned to academic life.
Katyayani Shankar Bajpai, better known as Shankar Bajpai, passed away on Sunday, August 30, 2020 at the age of 92. He was a career diplomat of the 1952 batch of Indian Foreign Service officers.
Katyayani Shankar Bajpai, better known as Shankar Bajpai, passed away on 30 August 2020 at the age of 92. He was a career diplomat of the 1952 batch of Indian Foreign Service officers.
In a long and distinguished career, Shankar Bajpai served as India’s ambassador to the United States, China, and Pakistan. He was also the Government of India’s representative in Sikkim from 1970 to 1974 and was involved in the integration of the state into the Indian Union.
As a younger officer, he served in Pakistan during the 1965 war. In 1966, he accompanied Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to Tashkent for the summit with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan. He was one of the few career diplomats to have been ambassador in India’s three most important and challenging posts.
He was India’s Ambassador to the United States when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made his vital first trip to Washington in 1985.
After he retired from government service in 1986, Shankar transitioned to academic life. He was Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in 1987, Regents Professor, University of California in 1987-88, and Visiting Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 1989-92. He then went on to be the First Professor of Non-Western Studies, Brandeis University, in 1992 and 1993. He rounded out his academic career as Visiting Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, in 2002.
At a time when the Indian economy was opening up and India was attracting international interest, Shankar took a position as Senior International Adviser, Merrill Lynch, International, New York, from 1995 to 2000. Given his interest in foreign policy and governance, he set about founding the Delhi Policy Group (DPG), an independent think-tank.
DPG was founded in 1994, with Shankar Bajpai as its first Chairman, in the memory of the Indian economist and civil servant, Lovraj Kumar, who was also a close friend. Shankar maintained an interest in diplomacy and was involved in various track-two interactions with the USA and Pakistan. He continued to be consulted informally by the Government of India, particularly on relations with the US. He had an extensive set of contacts and friendships in the US establishment and was knowledgeable about America beyond foreign policy issues.
Shankar Bajpai was a man for many seasons. He could quote poetry classics from memory, was widely and eclectically read, was an avid film buff, but above all was known for his culinary skills and as a consummate host. He remained engaged with India’s foreign policy and governance, and at the time of his death was working on a biography of his father, Girja Shankar Bajpai, first Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs, and on his own memoirs.
(Published under an understanding with South Asia Monitor, https://southasiamonitor.org)