Old India hand returns to US embassy in New Delhi

WASHINGTON: To say an old India hand — who also happens to be Indian-American — is returning to the US Embassy in New Delhi for a second tour of duty, this time as the Charge D’ Affairs, is putting it rather plainly. So deep and so long are Atul Keshap ties to the subcontinent and to US diplomacy in the region that they not only define much of his professional career, they also span both sides of his family going back decades.
A senior career diplomat who joined the US foreign service in 1994, Keshap first served in New Delhi from 2005 to 2008 as Counselor for Political Affairs — one of Ambassador David Mulford’s principal advisors on the US-India civilian nuclear energy cooperation initiative. Two years later, he headed the Office of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Bhutan Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, before his elevation in 2013 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia.
Ambassadorship to Sri Lanka and Maldives in 2015 came in recognition of nearly a decade on the South Asia beat before he returned to the US capital to become Vice Chancellor of the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, DC.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration picked him to hold the fort in New Delhi pending the nomination of a full-time ambassador to India. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is widely tipped for the post. “Pleased to announce that Ambassador Atul Keshap will soon arrive at @USAndIndia as Chargé d’Affaires. Ambassador Keshap’s wealth of experience will help advance our shared priorities as we work with India to overcome global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet.
Hours later, Keshap himself posted a photo with his mother Zoe Calvert, tweeting, “Before departure for #India, I went home to #Charlottesville to seek my Mother’s blessings. She served in the #ForeignService at the US Embassy in New Delhi 1958-1960.”
India’s Keshap’s parents’ ties to India ran deep and long into the past. His father Keshap Chander Sen was a Partition-era refugee from Lahore who overcame tremendous adversity to graduate from the Delhi School of Economics and went on to become an international civil servant, serving with the ILO and other UN agencies.
Some ten years after his retirement, Dr Sen returned to India and settled in Mysore, Karnataka, where he was founder, benefactor, and chief officer of a charity he entitled the Lost Cause Mini Fund. The charity provided educational materials, food, medicine, blankets, and other necessities to needy widows, indigents, lepers, AIDS patients, the handicapped, and the voiceless, for nearly a decade till he passed away in 2008. “Every year during winter, he would distribute free woollen blankets to the poor on city streets. He would drive around in the night, place the blankets on the people sleeping on the pavements and quietly move away,” the local Star of Mysore noted in its tribute.
Keshap’s mother’s ties to India ran even deeper. Zoë Calvert’s grandfather (and Atul Keshap’s great grandfather), Richard Creagh Mackubin Calvert, served as an engineer in General Electric build Shivasamudram project — which brought the first hydel power to India at the turn of the 20th century. Fittingly, Keshap Sen’s ashes were immersed in the Cauvery river that runs through Shivasamudram. Appropriately too, the son of Zoe Calvert and Keshap Sen will power US-India ties for now.

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