THREE years ago when Siddhartha Shankar Ray was appointed ambassador to Washington, few thought the septuagenarian would survive till the end of his term. Everything about him seemed wrong. He was too old and set in his ways. His cabinet status precluded him from interacting with lower ranking US officials. He carried the weight of his past heavily on his shoulders--Sikh separatist groups blamed him for the death of innocent Sikhs when he was governor of Punjab. And, most importantly, no one thought he could fit into Abid Hussain's shoes.
But Ray has managed to confound his critics. With dexterity, and with hard work. His three-year tenure has been rocky and dogged by criticism, but he has managed "not just to survive but succeed". Says a Clinton Administration official: "Ambassador Ray doesn't stand on ceremony. He guards India's interests carefully."
In his 70s, Ray's seen it all: a high profile legal career, a successful political innings with a second-term ambassadorship in Washington crowning his earlier appointments as chief minister and cabinet minister. He maintains a gruelling schedule and has travelled to more than 40 American states. "I am trying to do the job as best as I can," he says. Does he then deserve the press reports which attribute every downturn in Indo-US relations to him but none of the glory? "Others must judge that," the diplomat says solemnly.
Ray is most appreciative of the Indo-US community and has often called upon the services of this powerful and previously under-utilised lobby whose efforts have reaped many benefits, both legislative and otherwise, for India. But he hasn't endeared himself to others in the community. BJP supporters are suspicious of his secular credentials and describe him as a supporter of the Babri Masjid and Khalistani Sikhs refer to him as "the butcher...