Richard Rahul Verma had reportedly declined the US ambassadorship to India the first time he was sounded out by the Barack Obama administration. After many years in the State Department and the US Congress he had recently joined the lobby group Albright Stonebridge, a common career shift among Washingtonians who need to earn the dollars that cannot be earned in a government job.
Verma was not initially seen as a frontrunner because New Delhi had signaled it did not want a person of Indian origin as ambassador.
However, finding the sort of “elderly white statesman” politically connected to the White House that New Delhi preferred proved difficult. After Ashton Carter, the ex-Pentagon number three, opted for the sort of private sector consultancy that Verma is giving up, the State Department returned to Verma.
Those who have worked with him describe as “very well organized, an efficient manager of meetings.” But Verma has a reputation for being informal and casual. “He is good at putting people at ease,” said an associate. The State Department’s senior diplomat, Bill Burns, has publicly said Verma is “one of the most decent people he knows.” Indians who know him say compared to earlier super-charged US ambassadors like Bob Blackwill or Frank Wisner, Verma will come across as “low-key.”
Verma’s father migrated from the Punjab in the 1960s and taught at the University of Pittsburgh. His mother was a special needs teacher. “His upbringing was very normal American,” said an associate. “He has some cousins and other relatives in India but began making political and economic contacts there a few years back.”
The ambassador-designate served as a lawyer in the US navy, worked as national security advisor to senator Harry Reid, did a stint in the democracy promoting National Democratic Institute before serving in the state department. Though he worked on Obama’s transition team, says a Washington lobbyist, “he is basically a Clinton Democrat.”
One described him as “very political and a good networker in Democratic circles: committed to social justice, climate change and issues like that. But also big on building up defense and homeland security-counterterrorism ties with India.”
Verma was said to be torn between working on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and accepting the ambassadorship. Some believe he calculates he can retain the position after Obama leaves. There are normally few takers for an envoy’s position in the lame duck phase of a presidency. “Ultimately he decided this was an opportunity that might never come back,” said a former co-worker.