Thursday, October 28, 2021

Conspiracy theories dog Indian envoy’s recall from Botswana

The Botswana Government has forced India to recall its ambassador Dr Ketan Shukla following pressure from some section of the Indian community and local businessman with links to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Sunday Standard can reveal.

The decision to recall Shukla follows a petition from a section of the Indian business community and Botswana businessmen with links to the BDP that he was involved in some unexplained mischievous conduct.

Insiders say some senior officials at Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are conflicted because some of the businessmen that helped to prepare the petition against Shukla are related to some of the Ministry’s officials.

Sunday Standard was unable to establish what could have led to the fall-out between Shukla and Botswana businessmen.

Diplomatic sources told Sunday Standard that what started off as a boardroom coup de tat against the Indian ambassador by a section of the Indian community escalated into a diplomatic row after some businessmen with financial muscles and links to the BDP joined the fray and called for the ambassador’s head.

The recall of Shukla has the hallmarks of a cloak and dagger deportation as majority of those involved in the intrigue seem sworn to secrecy and the few who are prepared to break the silence are insisting on anonymity.

His departure is said to have been so secretive and hasty that he was warned not to speak to any government official or the local Indian community. At the time of going to press Dr Shukla, who left Botswana on July 26, was still awaiting his fate back in his home country.

Shukla’s last public appearance (a week before his departure) was at Ntlhantlhe and Lekgolobotlo villages where his office, in collaboration with Bank of Baroda and Botswana Hindu Society, donated food hampers to the needy.

“He was officiating at the event when all of a sudden he told us in confidence that he has been recalled. He said he was warned not to address the embassy staff or share the details of his sudden recall with anyone in Botswana,” an insider said.

Apart from the names of businessmen cum politicians who plotted Shukla’s ‘down fall,’ another person whose names keeps  cropping up is Charge de Affairs Guru Subramanian.

A document seen by the Sunday Standard shows that Guru joined Indian community in Botswana who were not happy with working with Shukla.

According to the document, a section of the business community prepared the petition which was sent to the Government of Botswana for his recall.

Reached for a comment on Friday, Subramanian confirmed that Shukla had been recalled. Asked to shed light on the circumstances that could have led to Shukla being recalled, Subramanian said “I can’t confirm or deny the contents of your story.”

Speaking to Sunday Standard, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi was non committal when asked to confirm if her office was not conflicted in the High Commissioner’ s departure.

A source close to Shukla reiterated claims that the ministry had authored a letter to their Indian counterparts expressing “in no clear terms” their dissatisfaction about the High Commissioner’s ‘conduct’.

“Dr. Shukla had requested audience with the minister on several occasions following news articles in India alleging his impending recall but the minister gave her a cold shoulder,” the source said.

However, Venson-Moitoi, refused to discuss her possible involvement in recalling the ambassador suffice it to say “as a matter of protocol we cannot discuss issues involving a government and its ambassador.”

Known for speaking his mind, sources said Dr Shukla claimed that he has been made a victim as he had taken a tough stand on some demands made by the host government.

Initially reports indicated that India took a decision to recall Shukla after complaints made by the Botswana Government alleging what falls short of a racial slur. Shukla is said to have described Botswana ministers as monkeys in addition to other comments made by the envoy that have rubbed the host country the wrong way. Sunday Standard was unable to establish if Shukla had indeed uttered the racial slur in question.

Upon his arrival in his country, Shukla was expected to report to that country’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) headquarters after the Botswana government complained to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who ordered the recall of the Envoy.

A medical doctor by training, Shukla recently slammed Botswana’s health system describing it as weak as it is unable to provide drugs to patients when they are required.

Speaking at the official launch of the Botswana Cataract Blindness Campaign at Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole recently, Shukla said “Supply chain management systems at all hospitals and clinics are weak leading to erratic availability as well as shortage of essential drugs.”

He also expressed concern at what he called shortage of trained and qualified staff saying it remains one of the major bottlenecks towards the availability of quality health care in Botswana.

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