JEDDAH: Ausaf Sayeed leaves Jeddah day after tomorrow with a great deal of personal satisfaction after serving four years as India’s consul general. Being in the Kingdom at a time when relations between Saudi Arabia and India reached new heights was nothing less than phenomenal for this young, dynamic Indian Foreign Service officer. A slight reorientation in Saudi foreign policy with the coming to the throne of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah gave Sayeed a perfect opportunity to raise India’s profile in the Kingdom and emphasize the mutual benefits that could accrue from this relationship.
The Kingdom’s “Look East” policy and the king’s visit to India in January 2006 took Saudi-Indian ties to new heights. Sayeed, along with Indian Ambassador M.O.H. Farouk, took a series of steps to consolidate the relationship in a variety of ways.
The Indian Foreign Ministry looks at the Jeddah posting merely as a Haj assignment. With nearly 170,000 Indian Hajis coming every year, it is indeed the most important of the consul general’s duties. But Sayeed, aware of the changing winds, concentrated not only on Haj affairs but also courted the Saudi business community in a big way. His focus was on business relationships and networking. The number of Saudi businessmen, academics, journalists and Saudi students who visited India during his tenure created a record of sorts. Little wonder then that he became the most popular diplomat in the Jeddah business community.
Now he has been promoted as joint secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which means he has an even greater task ahead. Since there are very few Muslim officers in the Indian Foreign Service, Sayeed’s future career will be one to watch with interest wherever he goes.
On Saturday, he handed over the charge to his successor, Sayeed Ahmed Baba. Later in the day, he spoke to Arab News on his four years in Jeddah. It is clear he has several achievements of which to be proud.
“The granting of ISO-9001 certification for the Indian Haj Management was certainly a big achievement,” Sayeed said. “We were the first to get it and spoke about our efficiency in managing this difficult task to the best of our abilities. The second achievement was that of enhancing the brand image of India and the Indian professionals through the creation of organizations such as Saudi-Indian Business Network (SIBN), Indo-Saudi Medical Forum (ISMF) and the Saudi-Indian Friendship Society (SIFS). The visit of the first-ever civil society delegation from India was a very important development. Also, there were a number of cultural festivals such as India Festival, Asia Festival, Asian Film Festival and so on.”
Sayeed’s Haj efforts brought a new level of professionalism to the enterprise. “Haj is the biggest operation of its kind handled by the government of India outside its borders. As it involves multiple agencies, both in India as well as Saudi Arabia, it is essential to have complete transparency in its affairs,” said Sayeed. “The acquisition of accommodation for pilgrims, particularly in Makkah, has been a subject of discussion since several years. We made it a point to involve different agencies such as the state Haj committees and the Haj Committee of India. Everything was codified so as to give the least chance for personal interpretations or discretions. If relaxation of any norms was allowed, it was done with the full knowledge and approval of the Building Management Committee, comprising the chairman of the Haj Committee, ambassador and consul general and the External Affairs Ministry was kept in the loop at all times.”
Capitalizing on earlier foreign service in Jeddah and Riyadh (1995-1998) gave Sayeed both unique insights and appreciation of the Saudi people and an ability to get things done.
“I found the Saudis, particularly of Hijaz, to be extremely friendly and forthcoming. They were extremely upbeat about the economic, educational and scientific growth of India and were keen to know more about India,” said Sayeed. “It was only a question of reaching out to the hosts in a proper manner. I would particularly like to acknowledge the unflinching support of Ambassador Muhammad Ahmad Tayeb of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Abu Bakr Bagader, deputy minister of culture; Hatim Qadi, deputy minister of Haj; Amr Enany, president of the Saudi-India Business Network and Mazen Batterjee and Ziad Al-Bassam, vice chairmen of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.”
Sayeed also helped the local expatriate community by promoting India’s excellent educational facilities, particularly in higher education. “There are very limited facilities for higher education in the Kingdom for expatriate children. The gap is filled by the Indian open universities such as Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). I also helped with the introduction of courses of Maulana Azad National Urdu University and Sikkim Manipal University in the Kingdom.”
A PROPONENT of competition in the education sector to keep schools vital, Sayeed also brought a new level of professionalism to Indian schools in the Kingdom. “We switched over to nominated management committees. I advocated the principle of rotating chairmen, again to provide healthy competition among the members and also to prevent any single individual from assuming larger-than-life image,” he said. “The management committee members were chosen carefully. Administrative experts, financial experts and chartered accountants were roped in and due to prudent financial management we were able to turn the International Indian School-Jeddah (IISJ) from a loss-making institution to the one generating a profit of more than SR4 million a year. Several steps were also taken to improve the academic standards of the school. The concept of evaluation of the teachers is being implemented for the first time in IISJ. Corporal punishment was banned to give the schools a more humane face.”
As Sayeed leaves, he expresses hope that he has helped plant a seed that Indian expatriates will nurture and grow. “I see the Indian community as an entity bubbling with energy,” he said. “If this energy is channeled in a positive direction, tremendous things can be achieved for the community and for the country. After all, the Indian community acts as a bridge between India and the host country. Unfortunately, sometimes this energy is used in a negative manner by some vested interests who are more interested in their own political or regional outfits than the general good of the community. It is a matter of great happiness and pride that our Saudi hosts consider the Indians to be a very sincere and dedicated workforce. There is always a great demand for Indians at practically all levels. I would like to urge the Indian community to keep aside their own political or regional affiliations and work united for the general good of the community. The consulate will, undoubtedly, give its support to any good initiative as it has done in the past.”