Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Chasing status! Become an Honorary Consul

I got a call from my well-known industrialist friend from South India seeking a favour. He wanted me to recommend his friend as an Honorary Consul of any country in Kolkata. Further, my friend requested me to leverage my excellent diplomatic contacts in Delhi and arrange for him to meet some of the ambassadors who could be instrumental in appointing his friend as their Honorary Consul. 
Becoming an Honorary Consul is a status symbol among the industrialists in Kolkata and may be elsewhere too. In the past five years the number of Honorary Consuls in our city have increased rapidly. It is perceived as a ticket to a charmed circle and a gateway to the round-the-year parties in Star hotels where you get to meet and rub shoulders with the high and the mighty and the glitterati (picture: Saugato Roy, Suvaprasanna and Subrata Mukherjee at a reception in a leading city hotel).
Basically, Honorary Consuls are akin to the trade representatives or those who articulate or facilitate trading interests of their respective countries in designated areas. There was a time when very few were appointed Consul Generals and were delegated with the power to issue visas. Initially, the countries used to appoint only those with whom they had strong business connections.
But over the last few years this has been done away with. In some cases the persons who just happened to visit that country for the first time ended up becoming an Honorary Consul. In other cases, it has become a family affair with the post of Honorary Consul being passed on to another member of the family.
These days the post of Honorary Consul is being chased as a status symbol. It is seen as a gateway or ticket to the government functions where the Who’s Who of the city throngs. For the nouveau riche industrialists in city, this is an easy way to mingle with bureaucrats, diplomats and celebs.
The trade off for taking care of the logistics for the ambassadors and visitors of the country they represent is hardly much in terms of what they are out to seek and leverage in our own society.
It is, however, unfair to paint all Honorary Consuls with a tainted brush. There are Honorary Consuls who have added a lot of respect and understanding for the country they represent in Kolkata. But they are rare and are seldom seen in these weekly receptions or parties nor do they have a need to be recognized by this post.
In the last seven years I have been approached by the representatives of three different countries with proposals to become their Honorary Consul in Kolkata. I have declined their offer because I have strong reservations in putting up the national flag of another country on my car, office or residence.  However, one of the Honorary Consul’s office in Kolkata did extend to me a position on paper and issued an airport permanent entry card that gave me access to the restricted areas.
With due respect to all my friends who are Honorary Consuls, I am not at all comfortable being an Indian citizen and representing some other country. Many times I have had arguments on this issue with my well-wishers and friends.
Why become an Honorary Consul when I continue to receive all kinds of invitations from the government and the diplomatic corps. In fact I am not able to cope up with my current quota of invitations.
What can the tag of an Honorary Consul bring other than the guilt of representing some other nation in my own country.
At the end of the day it is a matter of personal choice. But there is little room for doubt that the office of the Honorary Consul is gradually being demeaned.
ess bee

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