India's top diplomat in Dubai leaves post after leading huge repatriation mission

Vipul, who oversaw a campaign that helped more than 130,000 Indians get home, spoke to 'The National' about his three-year tenure

The past few months have been tough for India’s departing consul general in Dubai from working to contain the spread of coronavirus in the community to repatriating thousands seeking to return home.

Vipul, who uses one name, said his focus in the early days of the outbreak was addressing the anxiety of millions of expatriate workers.

"When you are responsible for serving 2.7 million people, then it does become challenging. Our biggest task was to deal with their fear of contracting the infection," Mr Vipu, 47, told The National a few days before his departure to New Delhi where he will take up a post at the Ministry of External Affairs.

Indians make up the largest group of 3.5 million in the UAE of which least 2.7 million live in Dubai.

The warmth with which we were received both by the Emirati and the local Indian community, those are memories we will always cherish

“In the initial days a lot of people who got the virus did not know how to deal with it.

"We had to take help of the entire community and health authorities so people were able to get to hospitals in time," he said, referring to the social workers and volunteers who assisted authorities during community testing drives.

"The UAE leadership greatly helped take care of everyone.”

More than 130,000 have returned to India and in the coming weeks another 40,000 will board planes operated by UAE, Indian carriers and Vande Bharat or Salute India government-led services.

"When we started the Vande Bharat flights, the consulate had to soothe them, deal with grievances, organise flights and be at the airport," he said.

“The credit has to go in large part to UAE authorities who were at the forefront and ensured this was done in a very orderly manner. The help of the community was also very valuable to us.”

Tens of thousands of Indians are headed home with registrations for repatriation crossing 500,000. Mr Vipul said this would change in coming months.

"People are leaving with the hope that they will come back,” he said.

“We got a huge number of registrations but we are discovering a lot of people don’t want to go back with economic activity resuming.”

The test ahead for the consulate will be supporting the unemployed after companies shut down because of the pandemic.

Construction and jewellery companies have sent workers to India on early or unpaid leave as a temporary measure.

“The challenge that will remain is the economic downturn and taking care of workers who might be out of jobs,” Mr Vipul said.

“Hopefully once the covid situation gets over, people will get back to the UAE and resume their jobs.”

During a busy three-year stint, Mr Vipul was often seen outside his wood-panelled office talking to Indian workers who approached the consulate and engaging with those in distress.

He guided blue-collar workers brought to the UAE after being duped by unscrupulous agents and led an effort to assist thousands during the 2018 amnesty period, when residents without legal documents were permitted to legalise their stay or return home without fines.

There have also been several high-level visits including several by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, federal and state ministers during his tenure.

He described his tenure as ‘exciting’ because of the level of engagement between the two nations.

“There are so many things happening in this relationship, you are always on your toes and always have something new to do,” Mr Vipul said.

“Friendship is written all over the UAE and India relationship at the national level and also between the people. Our ties have deep, historic roots.

“Our partnership will continue to go on a high growth path. Whether energy, food security, investment, infrastructure or new areas like space or artificial intelligence, our two countries will continue to work together.”

He hopes to stay in touch with the Emirates having built strong links with its people.

“The warmth with which we were received both by the Emirati and the local Indian community, those are memories we will always cherish,” he said.

“There are several things that are unique like hearing many older Emiratis speak in Hindi. We will always remember their friendship.”

His family will miss the multicultural fabric of the emirate, particularly his young daughter who remembers the names of UAE’s Rulers.

“She started school here and true to the Dubai spirit, she had kids from around the world in her class. That is something we are going to miss when we go back to Delhi,” Mr Vipul said.

“Everyone in the world gets mesmerised with Dubai, the buildings and the living standard.”