The government has appointed Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra as the next Foreign Secretary, to take over later this month. Mr. Kwatra’s appointment was announced just after a visit by Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba who held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. He is set to take over the position on April 30, the day present Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla retires, the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet said.
A 1988–batch officer, Mr. Kwatra has earlier served as Ambassador to France (2017–2020), Deputy Chief of Mission in Beijing and was Minister (Commerce) at the Embassy in Washington, DC. He has worked at the MEA headquarters on the policy planning desk, Joint Secretary (Americas) and represented India at the SAARC Secretariat in Nepal as head of the Trade Bureau, according to details available on the Embassy in Kathmandu’s website.
The government’s decision means Mr. Kwatra will supercedes several officers in the 1986–87 batches including High Commissioner to U.K. Gaitri Issar Kumar, Ambassador to Bhutan Ruchira Khamboj, High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria, HC to South Africa Jaideep Sarkar, Ambassador to Switzerland Sanjay Bhattacharya and HC to Malta Sangeeta Bahadur.
South Block insiders credit Mr. Kwatra’s elevation not just to his tenure in Kathmandu, where he was able to steer the bilateral relationship during some rocky times, but also to his previous roles as Ambassador to France, and prior to that, as the Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office who consistently had PM Modi’s ear.
As J.S. (PMO), Mr. Kwatra was often seen in close consultation with PM Modi during his initial years in office, when the PM made a record number of visits abroad, serving as an unofficial translator to the PM at a pinch, given Mr. Kwatra’s fluency in Hindi, English and French.
Mr. Kwatra was posted as Ambassador to France in August 2017, a month before the Rafale deal for purchase of jets, first announced during a visit to Paris by PM Modi in 2015, was signed. The role came amidst a rocky period, during which many details of the agreement had to be ironed out. Amongst fellow officers, Mr. Kwatra is known for being a stickler for rules and regulations, has a deep understanding of economic issues and maintains a very low and unassuming profile.
The move not to extend the current FS’s tenure is at odds with the Modi government’s decisions this year on other officials including the Home Secretary, the Director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
Last month, the government also announced a 3–month extension to Permanent Representative to the United Nations T.S. Tirumurti. Sources said there is some speculation that Mr. Shringla, who has been at the helm of the service since 2020 dealing with the challenges of the Covid pandemic, the pull–out of the Embassy from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover and the recent evacuation of Indians caught in the Ukraine conflict, is being considered for a role in coordinating next year’s G–20 summit, which will be hosted by India, or another senior post based in Delhi.