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Name: Rao, Nirupama
Current Position: Previous Ambassador

Since August 1, 2011, the ambassador to the United States from India, the world’s second most populous nation (population: 1.14 billion) has been Nirupama Rao. A seasoned diplomat, she is the third woman to serve in the position and the second in a row.

Born in Malappuram, in the southwestern state of Kerala, on December 6, 1950, Rao was the Indian equivalent of an “Army brat,” growing up at a series of bases around the country. She earned her BA in English from Mount Carmel College, in Bangalore, India, in 1970, and her MA in English Literature from Marathwada University in Maharashtra, India, in 1973.
Shortly after acing the Indian civil service exam, Rao joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. Early career assignments included service as Desk Officer on the Southern Africa and Nepal Desks at the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as postings at the Indian embassies in Vienna, Austria, and Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she was First Secretary from 1981 to 1983.
From 1984 to 1992, Rao served in New Delhi at the Ministry’s East Asia Division, focusing on India-China relations, including a stint as Joint Secretary of the Division. Rao was a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University for the 1992-1993 academic year, and then served as Minister for Press Affairs at the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, from October 1993 to October 1995. She served as Ambassador to Peru with concurrent accreditation to Bolivia from October 1995 to May 1998. From June 1998 to August 1999, she was Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy in Moscow, Russia. From September 1999 to August 2000, she was Distinguished International Executive in Residence at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Returning to India in December 2000, Rao had three New Delhi-based positions in a row: she served as Head of the Ministry’s Division on Multilateral Economic Relations until June 2001; as the Ministry’s first female spokesperson, from July 2001 through October 2002; and as head of the Administration and Personnel Division from October 2002 to 2004. The spokesperson job was especially challenging, coinciding with a difficult period in India’s relationship with Pakistan that included the failed Agra Summit of 2001 and the military stand-off of 2001-2002.
Leaving India again in 2004, Rao was High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka from 2004 to 2006, and Ambassador to China, with which India shares a 2,100 mile long border, from 2006 to 2009. In China, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable, Rao played a major role in cementing greater trust between the two countries. Rao served as India’s Foreign Secretary (head of the Indian Foreign Service) for two years, from August 1, 2009 to July 31, 2011.
She is married to Sudhakar Rao, a former member of the Indian Administrative Service who retired as Chief Secretary in the Government of Karnataka, a large state in southwest India with a population of 61 million. They have two sons, Nikhilesh and Kartikeya. A poet, Rao’s poems have been translated into Russian and Chinese; in 2004, she published a book of poetry, Rain Rising. Rao speaks Kannada, Hindi and English.
Poet Diplomat (by Amit Baruah , Hindustan Times)
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