New Delhi: In a surprise move, the NDA government has appointed India's ambassador to the United States, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as the new Foreign Secretary, replacing Sujatha Singh, the country's highest ranking diplomat, about seven months before she was due to retire.
However, opposition parties are questioning the motives behind her sudden removal. The Congress has questioned the reason for her removal with spokesperson Manish Tewari tweeting that it was late retribution for the stand taken on the row with the US over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in 2013.
Singh is the first foreign secretary to be removed unceremoniously after Rajiv Gandhi removed AP Venkateswaran 28 years ago in 1987.
Sources say, Sujatha Singh never served in mission of neighbouring countries and that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) always felt that she was not perfect to work on many agendas of the Modi government including SAARC and strategy with neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar among others.
Sources also said her inappropriate handling of the Devyani Khobragade incident went against India and invited huge embarrassment.
Jaishankar, credited with the turnaround in New Delhi's relationship with Washington, went to the US at a time when the Devyani affair had impacted ties in December 2013.
The Prime Minister was also of the view that the erstwhile UPA government had done injustice with Jaishankar as after Rajan Mathai's retirement in July 2013, Jaishankar was all set to be Foreign Secretary but under pressure of two senior Congress ministers and senior bureaucrats in the PMO, he was ignored.
It was believed that Sujatha was enjoying strong backing of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj but goof-up done during Chinese President Xi Jinping visit to India and confusion created during Modi's Nepal visit were the few crucial points that went against her. She was also kept out while taking important decisions like the cancellation of Foreign Secretary talks between India and Pakistan and the US President visit to India on Republic Day. The decision was finally taken to remove her after the Obama visit.
Jaishankar has gained the trust of the new establishment at the Centre because of his diplomatic skills and knowledge. Earlier, there were reports that Modi was impressed by Jaishankar's handling his visit to the US in September last year.
He was due to retire on January 31, 2015 but the government decided to retain him.
Before his sudden appointment as Foreign Secretary, the 60-year-old diplomat was India's Ambassador to the US. He had also been posted as Ambassador to China, Singapore and Czech Republic. He will have a two-year tenure as per rules
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.
Sources confirmed that after the notification, Singh has put in her papers and sought voluntary retirement. However, the government is tight lipped about the change of post and in its release only said that Singh's tenure that was due to end in eight months was 'curtailed' with immediate effect. Singh took charge in August 2013, and was only the third woman to hold the post.
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.