The Ministry of External Affairs announced a ‘change of face’ with spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin being promoted as Additional Secretary, to be replaced by MEA officer and author Vikas Swarup, famous for the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire that was based on his book. Mr. Swarup is expected to take over the position from April 18th, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns from his nine-day trip to Europe and Canada beginning April 9th. Mr. Akbaruddin will now be the point-person and chief coordinator for the India-Africa summit due to be held in New Delhi in October 2015. Government sources told The Hindu that he is expected to be posted out after the high-conference is concluded, with both the Tokyo and London ambassadorships coming up for replacements at that time.
The decision to move Mr. Akbaruddin, who has was appointed spokesperson in December 2011 was described by an official as a “routine” decision. However, his posting last year was held back, reportedly on the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was particularly appreciative of his grip on e-communication and social networks as well as his abilities on television. During his tenure of more than three years, Mr. Akbaruddin was responsible for updating the Ministry’s online presence, and introduced computer and mobile friendly interfaces, as well as live-streaming, video and audio transcripts of every briefing. By default, Mr. Akbaruddin’s role was also seen as government spokesperson, as no other Ministry, including the Prime Minister’s Office has a spokesperson who regularly addresses the media. Given the PM’s frequent visits abroad in the past year, the Joint Secretary (External Publicity), as the spokesperson’s role is officially titled, has gained a greater prominence than before. Mr. Akbaruddin had earlier served on deputation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for four years.
Mr. Vikas Swarup is currently the Joint Secretary (UN-Political) at the MEA in Delhi. The 1986-batch officer has served in several missions including in the U.S., U.K., and Africa, while pursuing a successful literary career at the same time. He is the author of three books, including the novel, Q&A , which became a bigger bestseller after the film Slumdog Millionnaire’ s release and Oscar awards. In an interview to The Hindu in 2013, Mr. Swarup had said, “As a diplomat I am constantly required to interpret India for my foreign interlocutors, which means the connection with India has to be very, very strong. The second is as a diplomat we are trained to use words very carefully. One wrong nuance and you can create problems in bilateral relations. These two attributes, when you are writing fiction about India, can be very handy too.” His new role will give both those words, and the term “Q&A” a different meaning, starting next month.