Full text of the interview with Sujatha Singh

January 29, 2015 09:41 pm | Updated April 02, 2016 12:55 am IST - New Delhi

Former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

Former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

Sujatha Singh , whose tenure as foreign secretary was cut short by the Modi government, gave this exclusive interview to Amit Baruah . Excerpts:

Did you feel you deserved your appointment as Foreign Secretary?

I believe that such decisions have to be taken on merit. And, I also believe that I was meritorious enough to be considered (for the Foreign Secretary’s job). You know in your own mind the kind of person you are, the officer you are and I have always, always given my work everything I had. I have been a competent, dedicated and hard-working civil servant. I did not see how I could be overlooked for consideration as Foreign Secretary.

As far as I am concerned, the decision was taken on merit. The fact that I was senior also played a role, but I believe I was meritorious enough to have got the post.

Why did the Government decide to remove you?

I believe it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to choose the Foreign Secretary that he wants and I accept it.

Does it hurt you?

It hurts when it becomes a question of individuals — of this personality versus the other personality, about brilliance and about not having experience. I would challenge anybody to look at the record of the Ministry of External Affairs, over the past 18 months that I have been Foreign Secretary, and to say that any part of our foreign relations have suffered or that any part of our strategic engagement with the rest of the world, and, more importantly with the neighbourhood, has not got the attention that was due to it because I was Foreign Secretary.

I am satisfied that there is nothing more that I could have done or anybody else could have done.

What’s your response to the Modi government’s decision to bring women to the fore and then remove you as Foreign Secretary?

(Laughs). I think it’s very funny because you had Stree Shakti as the theme in Republic Day. I would be the last person to think that a woman should be promoted because she is a woman. Every individual officer has to be judged in his or her capacity to deliver. On that, I think I have delivered.

In the past few months, have you had difficulties in working with the Prime Minister or his office?

Every new government takes time to settle in. The Ministry of External Affairs gives its inputs into every decision that is taken. We give our inputs into the Prime Minister’s Office,(PMO) we give it in to the External Affairs Minister. The decision that is finally taken is the political leadership’s prerogative but we have never hesitated in giving our inputs.

I personally have never hesitated in giving frank, free and honest advice.

Was the advice appreciated?

I don’t think that’s very important. In the best traditions of the civil service, I believe it is my duty to give my honest advice and if it is overruled then that is also the prerogative of the political leadership.

You don’t hanker for any other postings like many of your colleagues?

No, not at all, that’s a closed chapter now and a new chapter begins. I have no regrets but I wish to be judged on my record and I believe my record and the record of the Ministry of External Affairs, which is so often the punching bag without a good word being said about so much it has done.

Just the quiet, solid diplomacy, the meticulous preparation and follow-up that goes into making all these [foreign] visits a success — the past eight months have been the most charged months of any new government that I can think of.

They have been highly successful months as far as foreign policy goes and for that the Ministry of External Affairs can take its due share of credit and the men and women who make the MEA function I think they have every reason to be proud and satisfied. We have our shortcomings, every civil service does, every profession does, but we have delivered and how.

We have the PMO and MEA taking foreign policy decisions. How does and should this work?

I think there should be a constant interface between the two and there has to be a degree of clarity. It’s not enough to make big announcements. I think its very important to follow up, and with all due respects to PMO, it is the other ministries that do the follow-up. It’s not just the MEA, it could be Ministry of Road Transport or Highways or Shipping.

It has to be a team effort. It’s not about individuals. It’s not about me. Not about any foreign secretary that has preceded me or succeeded me, it’s about my Ministry as an institution and I am tremendously proud of that.

What do you plan to do now?

I have been working since the age of 15 (laughs)…university can be a big slog, then sat for the (civil service) exams at the age of 21 and then worked. As a working mother, as a working wife (my husband also a fellow diplomat and then separate postings), it hasn’t exactly been easy.

First, I am going to sleep a lot! I’ve always wanted to use a potter’s wheel, make clay pots and weave, do gardening. I love gardening, am looking forward to getting my hands dirty.

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