Seasoned diplomat, Being an able team leader who can also read the boss’ mind and act upon it are attributes of a good bureaucrat.
Being an able team leader who can also read the boss’ mind and act upon it are attributes of a good bureaucrat. The task becomes complex if it is high-profile foreign affairs. But it is most difficult if the boss or bosses are pro-active, new to the task and in a hurry, to quote US President Barack Obama who has just left after a historic visit: “to create history in a short time.”
Sujatha Singh appears to have failed to keep pace in the fast-forward mode in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been engaging the world’s high and mighty. Rightly or otherwise, top officials are there as political appointments dependent upon whims of political masters, irrespective of personalities and political hues. The DRDO, too, had an abrupt change recently – no questions asked.
Whatever her qualities and performance, Sujatha’s rather unceremonious exit as the Foreign Secretary has unwittingly revived speculation about how she was appointed in 2013. Indeed the senior-most, she had written a letter to the UPA Government reiterating that position when it became known that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh preferred Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The then government feared resignations like six top officials did when Shivshankar Menon was made the Foreign Secretary.
That Sujatha is the daughter of former policeman T V Rajeshwar, a Congress loyalist who was Uttar Pradesh Governor, was then known. Now, it turns out that Congress President Sonia Gandhi vetoed Jaishankar’s appointment in Sujatha’s favour. A possible reason was Sonia’s keenness to boost women, two examples being Pratibha Patil and Meira Kumar.
For Dr Jaishankar, the new tidings have come just three days before he would have retired. He will get a full two-year term, a decision taken some years ago, allowing Secretaries heading key services fixed terms to avoid frequent changes at the top that impact policies and their implementation.
Son of the late K Subrahmanyam, the ‘guru’ of India’s community of security analysts and known for his intellect, Jaishankar is easily one of the brightest diplomats today. He has been the longest serving envoy to China. As in charge of the America Desk, he had led the talks for the civil nuclear deal. Sent as envoy to the United States after he did not make it as the Foreign Secretary, he waded into a controversy surrounding the detention of lady diplomat Devyani Khobragade. She was brought home after much tough talk and act between New Delhi and Washington for which both he and Sujatha must share credit.
After the political changes of last May, as India’s man on the spot Jaishankar was able to calm the frayed nerves, enough to help create the bonhomie that developed between Modi and Obama, culminating in the Obama visit. With the “China man” who also knows America well taking the helm, the Foreign Office should do well as Modi-led India reaches out to the world.