An interview with Shri Venu Rajamony,
Press Secetary to the President of India
Wafa: When and how did your association with JNU begin? What were your first impressions about this University?
Venu Rajamony: The first time I heard about Jawaharlal Nehru University was from some seniors of mine in Maharaja's College, Kochi, who after their under-graduate degrees had joined JNU. I did my Bachelor's in Political Science and International Relations. The fact that JNU had the oldest and the best school of International Studies and the stories I heard from my seniors about the campus life inspired me to seek admission in JNU.
I fell in love with JNU from the moment I entered its portals. I initially stayed with friends in Ganga hostel which was then a Men's hostel. I appeared for my entrance test and interview. While awaiting results, I started exploring the campus and taking part in various activities, including public meetings which would be held in hostels after dinner with speakers from outside. I was selected for the M.A. programme in International Studies and initially allotted a room in Narmada Hostel ('Down Campus' as it was called then) which I shared with two others. After a year, I graduated to a single room in Ganga Hostel.
Wafa: How would you describe your years at JNU?
Venu Rajamony: I had two wonderful years in JNU. My study was combined with a great deal of involvement in public issues as well as extracurricular activities. What is special about JNU is its national character and the opportunity it provides to make friends from all parts of India. The JNU student community has always taken active interest in all national, social and political issues. This environment enabled me acquire greater understanding of the challenges that India faces. The residential nature of the University helped make lasting friends. Moreover, it was wonderful to have teachers living next door to students and to be able to interact with them freely even after regular class hours.
I was Vice-President of the JNU Students Union in my first year. I met Saroj, my wife, while at JNU. She did her M.A. and M.Phil in History from JNU. My time in JNU ended with seven days in Tihar Jail as part of the well known students' agitation of 1983.
Wafa: Have you visited JNU recently? How (if at all) has JNU changed in these years?
Venu Rajamony: I visit JNU as often as I can. A large number of friends and contemporaries are now members of the faculty. JNU campus has become much more beautiful than in my times. It is a single integrated campus now. The students and faculty remain hard working, dedicated, intellectually vibrant and socially conscious.
Wafa: How has JNU shaped your attitude to your profession? Do you think JNUites do things differently?
Venu Rajamony: JNU helped me develop a good understanding of international relations as well as confidence in articulating my views. Interaction with the best and the brightest from across India as well as abroad inculcated in me a national and international perspective. JNU exposed me to the best scholars of International Studies in India as well as officials of the Government, diplomats, and journalists who wrote on foreign policy matters etc. Overall the JNU experience has been a great asset in my profession of diplomacy.
JNUites to my knowledge have distinguished themselves in various walks of life. The JNU experience brings out the best in students and instills in them confidence as well as drive to succeed.
Wafa: What was the trajectory that your career took after you left JNU? How has the journey been from being a journalist to working in the Indian Missions to Hong Kong, Beijing, Geneva, Washington etc and how is being the President's Press Secretary?
Venu Rajamony: After JNU, I returned to Kerala and joined an LLB programme in the Ernakulam Law College, Mahatma Gandhi University. I then found a job as a journalist and worked as Staff Correspondent of the Indian Express in Kochi for two and a half years. I continued my legal studies part time and appeared for the Civil Services examinations. I made it to the Indian Foreign Service, in the second attempt, as topper of my foreign service batch.
The journey from journalist to diplomat and now the President's Press Secretary has been wonderful. I enjoyed every moment of my life as a cub reporter for Indian Express. My subsequent assignments as a diplomat have been enriching as well as fruitful. I have altogether spent 9 years in China, spread between six years in Beijing and 3 years in Hong Kong. I speak fluent Chinese and worked hard at learning the language for over two years during my stint in Hong Kong.
I was responsible for human rights in the Indian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva which helped me combine my interest in international politics and law with the search for practical solutions to the global challenge of human rights. My stint in Washington D.C. as Minister (Press, Information & Culture) helped hone my talents in public diplomacy and contribute to the building of India-US relations.
My tenure as Consul General of India in Dubai was particularly rewarding for the opportunity it provided to make a difference in the lives of a large number of poor Indians through welfare measures and better services from the Consulate. I also worked as Director in the office of the External Affairs Minister which gave me a ring side view of how foreign policy is made at the Ministerial level.
I consider myself fortunate to have this chance to work as Press Secretary to the President of India. It enables me understand the workings of the Indian political system from the perspective of the President and work under the guidance of one of the most experienced and wise political leaders that India has seen in recent times.
Wafa: Which aspect of JNU did you love the most when you were a student here? Any particular memories that you would like to share?
Venu Rajamony: I have so many fond memories of JNU that they could fill a book. I think the campus life as well as the vibrant intellectual discourse that takes place in JNU is what I enjoyed the most.
Wafa: Is there anything in your life which can be dedicated to JNU?
Venu Rajamony: JNU has played a very major role in moulding my personality. What I acquired in JNU, both from within the class room as well as outside, has stood me in good stead throughout my life and career. I also made a large number of wonderful friends, many of whom, I am in touch with even today and some of whom are now faculty members in JNU. It is a matter of pride to introduce myself as a former student of JNU and I have always discovered an instant sense of bonding with other former students of JNU.
Wafa: What message would you like to give to the present JNU student community?
Venu Rajamony: Be proud of the fact that you studied in one of the best institutions in the country and the world. Do your utmost to be innovative in whatever you do. Think as well as act originally. Enjoy your student life and try to make a difference. Do your utmost for your country and the society in which you live.