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Jaishankar takes charge as new foreign secretary

Photo by Wilford Harewood; courtesy The Halle Institute at Emory University.

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) S. Jaishankar, India’s ambassador to the US who was seen as having played a catalytic role in the turnaround in bilateral relations, assumed charge as India’s foreign secretary Thursday, a day after the government in a late-night announcement “curtailed” the two-year tenure of incumbent Sujatha Singh seven months before her term was to end.

Taking over his new job at South Block, where the Ministry of External Affairs is housed, Jaishankar said: “My priorities are the government’s priorities.” Jaishankar is known to have developed a close rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was impressed by his abilities to get things done.

Jaishankar, who was to have retired from the diplomatic service on Jan 31, said he was “honoured” to be given the responsibility. Sujatha Singh was not present at his takeover event. Jaishankar later met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

The government Wednesday night appointed Jaishankar, an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1977 batch, as the new foreign secretary. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, in a decision taken Wednesday night, decided to “curtail the tenure” of the incumbent Sujatha Singh “with immediate effect”. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is headed by Prime Minister Modi.

The committee, in a note, said that Jaishankar has been appointed the new foreign secretary for a period of two years.

Sujatha Singh, who was one batch senior to him, assumed office in August 2013 and was due to retire in August this year. She had taken over as the third woman foreign secretary.

The surprise announcement came a day after US President Barack Obama wound up his three-day state visit during which India and the US saw a breakthrough announcement on the stalled civil nuclear deal.

Jaishankar, as India’s ambassador to the US, played a key role in bridging the widening gulf in relations between the US and India after he took over in December 2013, especially in the wake of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s arrest in New York over her maid’s immigration status, and also played a major role in arranging Modi’s visit to the US last September, officials said.

Jaishankar was one of the key officials who negotiated the nuclear deal with the US as joint secretary (Americas) from 2004 to 2007 in the ministry. He was previously the envoy to China before moving as envoy to the US. He had also been posted as ambassador to Singapore and the Czech Republic.

Jaishakar, who was the topper of his 1977 batch, hails from an illustrious family of civil servants and is the son of late foreign policy doyen K. Subhramanyam.

In 2013, his name was being considered for foreign secretary after Ranjan Mathai’s retirement in July that year. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was reportedly in favour of appointing Jaishankar asthe foreign secretary, but Congress president Sonia Gandhi is said to have decided in favour of Sujatha Singh, whose father T.V. Rajeshwar was former Intelligence Bureau chief and a Congress loyalist.

Former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, in a tweet, has termed Jaishankar’s appointment as an “outstanding choice”.

A product of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Jaishankar’s Ph.D. specialization was nuclear diplomacy. He turned 60 years Jan 9 and, according to rules, was set to retire Jan 31, the last day of the month.

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