In a surprise move, the government has appointed S. Jaishankar as the new Foreign Secretary, replacing Sujatha Singh about seven months before her tenure comes to an end. Sources say that Mr. Jaishankar was chosen for his role in rebuilding India-U.S. ties after the Devyani Khobragade incident, capped by the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to New Delhi this week.
Senior officials told The Hindu that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been particularly impressed by Mr. Jaishankar’s handling of his visit to the U.S. in September and had been keen to retain him. He was due to retire on January 31 this year, which pushed the timing of the decision.
Mr. Jaishankar is in Delhi for consultations after the Obama visit and, while confirming the news to The Hindu , made no comment.
According to the notification on the Department of Personnel and Training website (DoPT) that was posted late last night, the Appointments Committee “approved the curtailment of tenure” of the current Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh.
Ms. Singh had been given an extension which would have seen her tenure in normal course to August 31 this year. Sources confirmed that after the notification, Ms. Singh has put in her papers and sought voluntary retirement. It is also unclear whether the sudden move will upset other officers in the Ministry of External Affairs, as did the surprise appointment of the foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon that had seen several officers resign in protest in 2006.
Diplomats, who preferred not to be named, said Mr. Jaishankar is respected for his achievements in service. Prior to his assignment in Washington, Mr. Jaishankar had served as Ambassador to China, and was credited by former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh for his deft handling of tensions between New Delhi and Beijing over the LAC in 2013.
He was India’s longest serving Ambassador to China, and his appointment will be seen as a positive sign for India-China relations. Significantly, as Joint Secretary in-charge of the Americas in the years 2004-2007, he was also one of the architects of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal that saw a “breakthrough” in progress during Mr. Obama’s visit.
Mr. Jaishankar was posted in Tokyo prior to 2000, where he met his wife Kiyoko. His father Dr. K. Subrahmanyam was India’s most prominent defence strategist, and advised several governments as the long-time Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Analysis.
Mr. Jaishankar’s replacement of Sujatha Singh is an interesting twist, given they were both in the running for foreign secretary when Ms. Singh won the post in 2013. Officials in the then PMO said that while Mr. Jaishankar was Dr. Singh’s choice, he was overruled at the time, primarily due to Ms. Singh’s seniority. “It is good that merit and experience rather than just seniority is being considered in high-level appointments,” Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor and a close associate of Dr. Jaishankar, told The Hindu .