A Toast to Mr Raj Kumar as it’s time to finally say Goodbye to the Most Loved Indian Consul General of Melbourne.
It has been almost three years since Mr Raj Kumar made his way to Melbourne, and now the time has arrived to bid him goodbye. “I won’t forget you, and I won’t let you forget me,” he says with nostalgia as he sits down with G’day India to talk about his term, his work here and his experience with the people of Australia.
How was your term in Melbourne?
When I came to Melbourne, it was challenging for me to go home because there were so many events on weekends and even during the weekdays
compared to my previous posting in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where I could hardly go out because of security reasons.
The Indian kind of love and affection I got from the Indian community here in Melbourne, who was warm and friendly, would always be unforgettable.
Soon, after COVID hit and made things difficult not only here but worldwide, it was again hard to go outside because of the restrictions.
I have always engaged with the Indian diaspora, so I’m leaving Melbourne with a heavy heart as I have made many friends for life.
I’m still in touch with many of my loved ones worldwide, but the kind of love and affection I have got from the Indian community here in Melbourne is memorable. It is not only just over three years of my tenure; this is lifelong, lifelong friendships.
After this, I’ll be staying in Delhi. So, I want to say to all the Indian diaspora that your friend is in India now. You have a friend in your motherland. I will take care of all the Indian diaspora from your homeland if you have any issues in India, and I will be your representative. I can assist you, whatever my capacity is.
What are some unique experiences you had in Melbourne?
When I came here in July 2019, it was a remarkable period. Then I returned to India in January 2020, only to return in February and soon after COVID started. That wasn’t easy.
The entire world was suffering, including people in Melbourne, particularly a lot of parents of the Indian diaspora who had just come to visit their children could not go back. Many had to overstay, some had brought a limited stock of their particular medications and had completely run out, and nothing was coming from India.
Some vulnerable parents had extreme personal circumstances which were crucial for them to be in India. All desperately wanted to go back to India and there were no flights to take them.
Then we opened up registration for the ‘Vande Bharat’ mission to repatriate them to India and within a few days, there were about 13,000 registrations for this repatriation mission.
The first Vande Bharat mission flight started from Melbourne, and then the first chartered flights from Melbourne to India also got started from Melbourne.
I could do this with the cooperation of my colleagues, my office, and the entire Indian diaspora because there was so much understanding of their trust in me and what I could achieve for them. The kind of sincere faith the Indian community embedded in me was an excellent feeling.
What has been your most memorable moment in Melbourne?
Soon after the borders of Australia was open within a couple of months two memorable visits of ministers were organized from India. Firstly, the Honourable Minister for External Affairs, Shri Jai Shankar, visited to attend the Quad meeting and the signing of the ECTA trade agreement between India and Australia.
Soon after the treaty was signed, the Minister for Trade, Hon’ble Piyush Goyal, visited, and we got one day to organize his welcome, but that was indeed a joyful moment and indeed a surprising moment for all of us.
Generally, organizing a minister-level ‘VIP’ visit takes a lot of preparation and heaps of notice in advance.
The minister’s visit was for all of Australia, but his first stop was Melbourne.
It was a glorious and rather happy moment when a Minister came to my constituency and gave me, my team, an immense pleasure to host and assist them in bilateral relations.
Any message for the Indians of Melbourne?
I like to request to all that you must register with the concerned diplomatic nation when visiting from India to Australia or any other country.
Mainly for the students, and whenever a student or anybody visiting from India, they must register with the Consulate. If anyone is visiting Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra or wherever they want to stay the most, it is essential to register with the Consulate there.
As I have been saying from each platform, the Indian Consulate is the pulse point for the Indian diaspora here. It is your ‘Maika’ here and you need not get the approval of anyone to visit your ‘Maika’ (Maternal home). This is ‘Hindustan,’ this is ‘Bharat,’ and this is ‘India’ for them, and we want to give the same feeling to a person after many days or many years when he or she visits his own Maternal home. We are here to serve, support them and help them in a positive way and not to harass them.
Any advice you like to give to the people of Victoria?
I request that most of the community members hold Indian passports. I want to advise them that they can get their passport renewed within one year of the expiry of their passport anytime. Once your passport is expired you are illegal.
‘Your visa is valid when your passport is valid. Don’t put yourself in that situation with your access, and then come to the Consulate to say there is an emergency. Since the passports are printed from India, we are not in a position to assist them in case of an emergency.
Also, the Indian diaspora who have taken the Australian citizenship I kindly request them to obtain OCI, your lifelong visa to India. This process will assist anyone going to India at any moment especially in the case of emergencies.
As most are first generation Indians in Australia, with most of their family members in India. Now and then, they would need to visit India.
How many years have you been serving the nation, and how many countries have you been posted to?
I joined the ministry at the age of twenty-two. Now it is going to be thirty-eight years of my service.
My first posting was in Libya, and then I went to Malaysia, Kenya, UK, Nigeria, Panama, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Australia this is my journey so far.
What is next for you?
I am going to India; I’m going to start my new life in India, and let’s see what comes my way and then we will decide accordingly.
What is the possibility you coming back to Melbourne?
It’s tough to say that now, but I’ll certainly be in touch with the Indian diaspora here. I’ll be there for our system; whatever opportunity comes my way, I’ll see, analyse, and take it. As I told you, I love the people in Melbourne, so I’ll keep coming.
How would you like to remember Melbourne and its people forever?
Thank you very much to the Indian diaspora for all their love, affection, and assistance, which I will never forget.
I’m taking with me all the loving moments they have bestowed as I told you, “I will never forget you, and I will make sure you never forget me.
The cooperation I have received from each and everyone is going to live with me forever. Once I leave Melbourne, I will always cherish lifelong friendships, which will be a treasure for my heart. This is something that I will be taking with me when I depart from here.
Your last note to Melbourne?
I want every person to be happy, and whatever they are doing, they should be comfortable doing that, and that’s the most critical one in life. It does not matter how many millions or billions you earn; if you are unhappy, it has no value for you. Enjoy your life. Money cannot replace happiness, your family’s happiness, and your health. That is the essential thing in life.
By Tonee Sethi