This most distinguished of Indian diplomats died on 6th March 2014, in his early nineties.
Hailing from a family of civil servants belonging to the princely state of Mewar (Udaipur), he was educated in Allahabad and at St. John’s College Cambridge in the 1940s, and was subsequently selected for the Indian Foreign Service; interviewed, with my father, future Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sajjad Hyder, by Pandit Nehru himself. In Ambassador Mehta’s own words, “My generation, ‘Midnight’s Adults’, was unique in world history; educated in undivided India, then working professionally for one of the two successor countries”.
Their training took place in New Delhi, where our families – coincidentally both originally of Rajput lineage – became firm friends.
Rama Mehta, like her friend Ruhafza Hyder, gracefully complemented her able husband throughout his stellar career, until her untimely demise in the 1970s when he was Foreign Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Ambassador JS Mehta was – like Ambassador and Prime Minister IK Gujral, Foreign Minister SardarSwaran Singh, and Ambassadors Ashok Mehta, Amreek Singh, Avtar Singh, and Amb/Foreign Secretary Ram Sathe – among that rare species of diplomat capable of fostering ties bilaterally, regionally, and multilaterally whilst maintaining core national interests.
The Mehta children have followed in their parents’ enlightened footsteps; eldest son Vikram and only daughter Vijay being my class fellows at Oxbridge in the 1970s, just as son-in-law Suleiman of Mahmudabad – dignified successor of the revered Raja Sahib Mahmudabad – is the 1960s Oxbridge contemporary of my elder brother Tariq (likewise a diplomat), Sunetra Bandranaike, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Younger sons Uday and Ajay are contemporaries of my younger brother Saad, and friends of India’s current High Commissioner to Pakistan T.C.A.Raghavan.
The grandchildren have it seems graced the gamut of Ivy League institutions.
Following family interaction in Delhi in the late 60s, in the 70s I had the opportunity of meeting Uncle Jagat when he hosted Vikrams’s friends in his elegant rooms in Magdalen College Oxford; and in Moscow where he snatched some time from his hectic schedule as visiting Foreign Secretary to come see us, my father being our Ambassador there: I remember vividly how he and my parents talked mostly of Aunty Rama’s passing.
Post retirement, Ambassador Jagat Mehta was active as an academic. He was a fellow at Harvard and at the Woodrow Wilson School. He was nominated as the “Tom Slick Professor of World Peace” at the LBJ school of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin in 1983-84. From 1985 till he passed away he was actively involved with voluntary organisations engaged in education and rural development in Udaipur.
On a post-retirement reunion in Islamabad in the 1990s, Uncle Jagat told my parents with pleasure and pride that one of his three able daughters-in-law was Collector of Ajmer district, where the major Sufi shrine in Rajasthan, of KhwajaGharib Nawaz, is located.
Amongst his Ambassadorial postings were Tanzania and China. He strove specifically, as alluded to, for improved Indo-Pak relations; and was an abiding advocate of nuclear and missile non-proliferation as “the 20th century has been a succession of monstrous misjudgements: two World Wars, the Cold War, and so on.”
I can still hear Uncle Jagat’s welcome, avuncular voice, on my return to Delhi in 2006, condoling his dear friend my father’s demise, and inviting me to Udaipur.
He is much missed by many, and was a role model for diplomats everywhere.