Career diplomat Katyayani Shankar Bajpai, who served as India’s envoy to the US, China and Pakistan, died on Sunday at 92.
Better known as Shankar Bajpai, the 1952-batch Indian Foreign Service officer had a long and distinguished career serving in crucial postings within the country and abroad.
As a young officer, he served in Pakistan during the 1965 war. The next year, he accompanied Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to Tashkent for a summit with Pakistan President Ayub Khan.
Bajpai was also the government’s Political Officer in Sikkim from 1970 to 1974, playing a role in its integration into the Indian Union.
He was Ambassador to the US when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made his first trip to Washington in 1985. He also served as Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board from 2008 to 2010.
He was one of the few career diplomats to have been Ambassador in India’s three most important and challenging posts—China, the US and Pakistan.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted, “Deeply grieved at the passing away of Amb. Shankar Bajpai, mentor and friend. Will be missed by so many of us.”
Amitabh Mattoo, Professor of International Relations at JNU, called him one of India’s “most exceptional diplomats”. “Shankar Bajpai was a confidante of decision-makers across the political spectrum,” he tweeted.
After he retiring from government service in 1986, Bajpai transitioned to academic life, with stints at the University of California from 1987-88, and as Visiting Professor at University of California, Berkeley from 1989-92.
With his avid interest in foreign policy and governance, he set about founding Delhi Policy Group, an independent think-tank.
He maintained an interest in diplomacy and was involved in various “track-two” interactions with the US and Pakistan. He continued to be consulted informally by the Government, particularly on relations with the US—his knowledge about the country went beyond foreign policy. He had an extensive set of contacts and friends in the US establishment.
Bajpai was a man for many seasons. He would quote poetry classics from memory, had a wide and eclectic taste in books, was an avid film buff, and, above all, was known for his culinary skills and being a consummate host. He remained engaged with India’s foreign policy and governance, and, at the time of his death, was working on a biography of his father, Girja Shankar Bajpai, the first Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs, and on his own memoirs.
He is survived by his wife Meera Bajpai and sons Dharma and Jayanti Bajpai.