Retired Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador of India


Nirupama Rao is a former Indian Foreign Service officer. She retired as Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, the senior most position in the Foreign Service, being the second woman to occupy the post (2009-2011). She was the first woman spokesperson (2001-02) of the Indian foreign office. She served as India's first woman High Commissioner (Ambassador) to Sri Lanka (2004-2006) and to the People's Republic of China (2006-2009). She was Ambassador of India to the United States from 2011 to 2013. In retirement she has taught at various universities, including as a Senior Visiting Fellow in International and Public Affairs at the Watson Institute at Brown University where she has taught an undergraduate seniors course on "India in the World" and George Ball Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Her book entitled "The Fractured Himalaya: India Tibet China, 1949 to 1962" was published by Penguin Random House India in October 2021. Ambassador Rao was a Fellow at the India-China Institute of The New School, New York in 2016, Public Policy Fellow at The Wilson Center, Washington D.C. in 2017 and 2022, and Pacific Leadership Fellow at the School of Global Politics and Strategy, University of California at San Diego in 2019. She was a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow from 2015-2016 and a Practitioner-in-Residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Italy in 2017. She is a member of the Council and Court of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a member of the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, on the Board of the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER), New Delhi, and a Councillor on the World Refugee and Migration Council.She is also a Member of the Board of Directors of the US India Business Council. She has an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (2012) from Pondicherry University, India. She is a staunch believer in the power of social media as an advocacy platform for policy and currently has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Ambassador Rao is the recipient of a number of awards recognising her contributions to the role of women in public service. She received the K.P.S Menon Memorial Award in 2010, the Sree Chithira Thirunal Award in 2011, the Vanitha Ratna Award of the Government of Kerala in 2016 and the Citizen Extraordinaire Award of Rotary International in 2018. She is also the recipient of the Fellowship of Peace Award of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington D.C in 2018.

Ambassador Rao is a Founder-Trustee of The South Asian Symphony Foundation (SASF)( - a not-for-profit Trust which is dedicated to promoting mutual understanding in South Asia through the creation of a South Asian Symphony Orchestra (SASO).

Medals and Ribbons (
India's Global Role: Lecture at the Christian Medical College, Vellore

Former Foreign Secretary @NMenonRao delivered 2nd Luminary Lecture for '23 at CMC Vellore's College Campus yesterday. Speaking on the topic 'India's place in a changing world order', Rao reiterated India's position as a leader of the Global South and spoke of a promising future.

The meaning of home for Tibetans in exile

This collection of Tibetan non-fiction writing is an inquiry into the nature of displacement, survival, loneliness and the ties of culture in exile

The loss of borderlands

The recognition of a shared habitat that was once common to our borderlands is alien to today's diplomatic negotiating agendas

BS-Seema Nazareth Award: Full text of ex-foreign secy Nirupama Rao's speech

Former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao's delivered a speech at BS Seema Nazareth Awards function. Here's the full text of her speech. "It is an honor to be present at the Business Standard Seema Nazareth Awards function. In doing so, we remember a young writer and journalist, a creative and eloquent voice tragically snatched from our midst in her prime.

India Today
Standing By Family

The importance of crisis-ridden Sri Lanka from both the strategic and humanitarian point of view

The India International Centre Diamond Jubilee Lecture Series on Engendering the Discourse
Diplomacy Today: A Woman's Agenda

The voice that women bring to diplomacy is distinct. Let the Women Speak.

The Wire
The Case for Harnessing Soft Power, or Why India Cannot Be Insular

This is an abridged version of the second Krishna Bose Memorial Lecture delivered by Nirupama Rao, a former foreign secretary and ambassador of India, in Kolkata on December 26, 2021. It has been slightly edited for style. Power, throughout history, has been defined as the strength of the mighty and hegemonic, rather than the subtle magnetism of civilisational strength.


Lecture at Majha House, Amritsar, 4 December, 2021

Deccan Herald
Afghanistan: A tragedy in many acts

Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban. The words of W B Yeats -- spoken a century ago -- that the worst are full of passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction, come to mind.

The Indo-Pacific regional order: elusive equilibrium

Neither US-China rivalry nor unbridled Chinese hegemony is suited to a region made for multipolarity and middle players; neither is it what regional nations want. However, the dominant trends across the region do not suggest the arrival of a happy equilibrium any time soon.

Book Review

Book Review of A Matter of Trust: India-US Relations from Truman to Trump by Meenakshi Ahamed, HarperCollins 2021

Sunday Lounge | Why Barack Obama's memoir is a 'Baburnama' for our times

Barack Obama's memoir is titled after an African American spiritual which proclaims, "O, fly and never tire...There's a great camp meeting in the Promised Land". The image of America, that City on the Hill, as a promised land eludes us today, as the author himself seems to imply at the end of this volume, after four years of trying to create a sense of common purpose in a nation beset by many contradictions.

Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA)
Gender and Diplomacy

Remarks by Amb. Nirupama Menon Rao, Former Foreign Secretary at the ICWA-SAU Webinar on Women and Power:Gender within International Relations and Diplomacy in the Panel Discussion on 'Traditional Roles and Glass Ceilings', 16 October 2020.

The Hindu
Galwan: Postscript to a tragedy

The night of June 15, 2020 will go down in the annals of Indian history as one steeped in tragedy. Twenty Indian Army personnel, including the Commanding Officer of 16th Bihar Regiment, lost their lives at the hands of Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh.

Opinion | India and China: Forgotten Histories, Complex Present

To illustrate the first dimension, 1954, the year when Panchsheel made its much-heralded debut, marked the conclusion of the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between India and the Tibet Region of China, and also the first bilateral trade agreement between India and China.

The Wire China
Nirupama Rao on the India-China Turning Point - The Wire China

"Given the fact that India and China are two of the biggest countries in Asia, questions of peace and security, and war and conflict between these two countries should be important, not only for the region, but for the rest of the world."

The Wire
With the World on Edge, So Much Is at Stake

"I no longer guess a future. Though I know a story about maps, for you." And do not know how we end nor where. ∼ Michael Ondaatje The coronavirus pandemic that every part of the world is now the victim of comes at a period in global history when the post-Cold War world order, dominated by the United States, was already being shaken at the foundations.

India Today
Bringing Out the China

BIG SISTER, LITTLE SISTER, RED SISTER Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang This latest work by Chinese-born British writer Jung Chang is described as the story of "Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China", and so it is.

India Today
What the Rajapaksas' return means for India | Guest Column

Illustration by Tanmoy Chakraborty The Rajapaksa clan has dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade-and-a-half now, and the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the country's presidency restates that reality. The Rajapaksas are people's politicians-they speak the tongue of the Sinhala street. Their capacity to outmanoeuvre opponents is well-known.

Times of India Blog
Paradise lost or regained? Kashmir must be drawn away from the precipice, with humane and...

The special status accorded to Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution has been removed with the presidential notification of 5 August 2019. This is a bold move by the government reflecting strong political will. The Constitution of India will, from now on, fully apply to Jammu & Kashmir, and any special exceptions previously provided to the latter, are ended.

ThePrintIndia on Twitter

'Does China look at any country as its equal? Feeling in China is that India must be contained', ex-Foreign Secretary & envoy to China Nirupama Rao @NMenonRao tells ThePrint's National Affairs Editor Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra #ThePrintUninterrupted

Doklam to Galwan: Have Modi-Xi informal summits been more about optics than border peace?

The standoff between Indian and Chinese militaries continues at Ladakh. India is deploying troops at multiple locations to mirror Chinese deployment. In October 2019, PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had held an informal summit in Tamil Nadu's Mamallapuram, after meeting in Wuhan the previous year in the wake of the 2017 Doklam standoff.

National Herald
Nirupama Rao on how India should deal with an insecure China

Nirupama Rao has served in key positions under two different regimes. She was the foreign office spokesperson, the first woman to hold the post, during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's time and she was in the centre of diplomatic frenzy that preceded and followed the failed Agra talks between Vajpayee and Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf in July 2001.

The Wire
With the World on Edge, So Much Is at Stake

"I no longer guess a future. Though I know a story about maps, for you." And do not know how we end nor where. ∼ Michael Ondaatje The coronavirus pandemic that every part of the world is now the victim of comes at a period in global history when the post-Cold War world order, dominated by the United States, was already being shaken at the foundations.

Unlike Donald Trump's US and Mexico, we can't build a wall between India and Pakistan

At the best of times, the relations between India and Pakistan have been shaky, unstable and abnormal. This week, they were rendered even more weak. The massacre at Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on 14 February where over 40 personnel of the CRPF were murdered by a brain-washed, radicalised, young Kashmiri suicide-bomber became the trigger for the current sequence of events.

The Hindu
The neighbour's concern

"I wouldn't recognise the Balochistan problem if it hit me in the face." These were words spoken by Henry Kissinger during a mission to Pakistan on behalf of the Kennedy Administration in 1962.

The Indian Express
Have the women spoken?

Women's voices are barely heard in the making of foreign policy

The Hindu
It's time to be a good neighbour

It has been a difficult six months for the Nepali people. This week, they faced another humanitarian crisis because the flow of fuel and supplies from India stopped. Newspapers reported that hospitals and clinics ran out of supplies, restaurants and businesses closed, neighbours scrambled for firewood to cook and stay warm, and transportation shut down.

The Indian Express
Used by terror?

Are we, the people of India, being used by terror? One has only to recall the infamous episode involving one of our TV channels during 26/11, in which airtime was provided to a terrorist with a fake Kashmiri accent to rail against the Indian state and justify acts of terror, even as he dodged questions from the anchor of the show.

The Hindu
Driven by neither hawks nor doves

The >terrorist blitz-from-the-ground on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot has brought home to us the fact that there is no brave new world in cross-border relations with Pakistan. Time after time, the same dissonances come back to haunt us.

The Hindu
A Himalayan balancing act

The great Himalayan Divide between India and China was in evidence last week following the > Chinese refusal to support India's case for entry into the > Nuclear Suppliers Group . While non-entry into the Group is not the end of the world, for India lives to fight another day, of concern is what the Chinese stance implies for the bilateral relationship between the two Asian giants.

The Wire
Tuning the Voice of India: How to Better Deploy Soft Power

Bureaucracy, particularly in our part of the world is not easily attuned topublic communication and its demands. "Less is more", "need to know basis", "information is power" are all zealously embedded truisms that are imbibed and intoned with great faith and conviction. When we do communicate, dexterity is a casualty.

The Hindu
A season to repair relations

The Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, recently put forward some suggestions for improvement of bilateral ties between China and India. The suggestions are timely since relations between the two Asian giants have looked tired and worn in recent months. The voices from the gallery have been worrisome.

The Hindu
Promises in the Rose Garden

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much anticipated visit to Washington has come and gone. The chemistry was positive, and the physics (that is, the structural content and equilibrium) and the geometry (the angles and alignments along which the visit was pitched) well-calibrated. Mr. Modi's fifth visit to the U.S.

The Indian Express
A Tangled Web in the Himalayas

It is said of Bhutan that it walks between giants. Its geo-strategic situation makes it a hugely important country, however. Sandwiched between India and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, it has succeeded admirably in preserving its national identity, its rich cultural and spiritual heritage, and in advancing the development of its people.

The Wire
Crowdsourcing Foreign Policy: Engaging in the Virtual Public Square

Four decades ago, I was inducted into the world of diplomacy. That era now seems light years away in many respects. It would have been impossible to imagine then that in the second decade of the 21st century we would think it perfectly normal to apply the concept of crowdsourcing and the virtual public square to the working of foreign policy.

The Wire
Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media

Diplomacy is a fine art, heir to centuries of epochal deal making, system building, peacemaking and conflict avoidance and resolution - it is, in many ways, a profession for the ages. In the minds of men and women at large, however, it is also seen as a profession conducted in rarefied environs, in dizzying ivory-towered heights, away from the hurly-burly of earthling life.

India Pakistan relations: Charting a course without reliable maps

Emotional handshakes seem to vaporize in the atavism of distrust that constantly reasserts itself. Seven decades after partition, the landscape of India-Pakistan relations remains a wasteland. We have eaten a lot of bitterness. The interdependence stemming from shared history, the timber of our humanity, culture and language has eluded us.

The Wire
Feminist Voices Could Change the Nature of International Diplomacy

"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider." These words from Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand command attention. We need more female representation in various fields. Gender equality should define the grammar of daily existence. "Feminism" was the most looked up word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary last year.

The Hindu
When India and China meet

The path of India-China relations is strewn with the ghosts of summits past. The leaders of the two countries have met, expressed the loftiest of sentiments, gone their separate ways. No doubt, summits are good, nobody has a quarrel with them, the media at least loves them.

Unlike Donald Trump's US and Mexico, we can't build a wall between India and Pakistan

At the best of times, the relations between India and Pakistan have been shaky, unstable and abnormal. This week, they were rendered even more weak. The massacre at Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on 14 February where over 40 personnel of the CRPF were murdered by a brain-washed, radicalised, young Kashmiri suicide-bomber became the trigger for the current sequence of events.
The Ageless Life: There is no use-by date to Mahatma Gandhi's eternal legacy

"I aim to live to the age of 125," Mahatma Gandhi once said. An assassin's bullet snatched him away before that milestone was reached but in many ways, for the hope, the courage, the sense of fairness and justice he infused in the world around him, he lives on, as the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz said, in an "ageless life".
A public philosophy of non-violence, a culture of peace - that's the diplomacy the world needs today

For almost all of my adult life, I have practised a profession that is diplomacy - that concerns the paths of peace rather than war. But diplomacy has also come to acquire other meanings - it covers strategy, geopolitics, competition and rivalry, maintenance of status quo, providing a velvet glove to narrow nationalism, and bypassing the common ground of mutual accommodation and mutual benefit.

The Wire
China May Be an Adversary, But Making It an Enemy Will Not Serve India

Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff once remarked that an "adversary is someone you want to defeat. An enemy is someone you have to destroy." With adversaries, continues Ignatieff, "compromise is honourable. Today's adversary could be tomorrow's ally. With enemies, on the other hand, compromise is appeasement." Is China our enemy or adversary?
"A New Country" (on Sri Lanka)

Remarks at the release of the book by Padma Sundarji, India International Centre, New Delhi
"The Greatest Wealth of All"

Convocation Address at the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, India

The Open Magazine;
"Anatomy of the Gandhi Enigma"

Review of "Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography" by Pramod Kapoor, Roli Books

India Today
The other side of the 1962 India-China war story

Bertil Lintner has a formidable reputation as a journalist who has extensively explored what Nari Rustomji called our enchanted frontiers-our northeastern borderlands. His observations of the region are informative and balanced. His latest book, titled China's India War, is partly a riposte to Neville Maxwell's infamous (for most Indians) India's China War, a work published in 1970.

"30 Women in Power", Rupa & Co.
The Hindu
A tsunami diary

NINE A.M., December 26, 2004. In Bangalore, I receive the following message on my cellphone: "Sea intrusion in Batti. Massive damage reported. Unconfirmed." I read the message, interpreting it as yet another instance of water-logging in flood-prone Batticaloa. But this is not a one-off.