The speculation over who would don the foreign secretary role after Ranjan Mathai’s retirement on July 31 is adding to the air of suspense in the South Block. Equations are being re-examined and old connections dusted and cleaned up as it is the foreign secretary who decides who gets the best posting.
Many senior Indian diplomats are raring to go abroad, hoping for some plum posting. Special secretary P S Raghavan of the 1979 batch, presently handling heavy-duty portfolio of India’s foreign aid projects, is one among them.
Then there is Harsh Vardhan Shringla of the 1984 batch. He is the joint secretary incharge of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives. Shringla’s batchmate and joint secretary (East Asia) Gautam Bambawale has been handling sensitive relations with China and Japan.
Joint secretary (Latin Americas) Dammu Ravi, who has been looking after his region for over three years, also wants a change. His senior and joint secretary (Eurasia) Ajay Bisaria has also been in that post for long, but is said to be in New Delhi for personal reasons.
But the longest stint so far in the headquarters has been that of joint secretary (United Nations Economic and Social) T S Tirumurti of the 1985 batch, who has been in Delhi since 2008.
The problem now is no big openings are in the offing, till there is movement due to a change of guard at the top. “The actual churning in the headquarters will take place only after a new foreign secretary assumes office,” said a senior MEA official.
If Indian ambassador to Germany Sujatha Singh returns as foreign secretary -- the seniormost among the candidates -- it could herald a change with Raghavan expected to move to Berlin.
The other contender is S Jaishankar, Indian ambassador to China, with the dark horse being Secretary (West) Sudhir Vyas. Besides, the term of Nirupama Rao in Washington is scheduled to end in September. There is intense speculation that she might get an extension, especially since a prime ministerial visit is likely during the annual the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
A South Block mandarin noted that when a top level change of guard approaches, the close-knit Ministry of External Affairs usually goes through two phases. “In the first phase, there is furious speculation that the sitting foreign secretary will get an extension, which is followed by agonising about who is going to be the next one. We are at the tail-end of the first phase,” he opined.
Meanwhile, the MEA top brass has to decide on several ambassadorial posts. “There are 24 posts where either the term of the ambassador is coming to an end or he is retiring,” he said.
These range from Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Brunei in the east to Abu Dhabi and Addis Ababa, Lusaka, Niger and Maputo in Africa. Then there are a bunch of openings in Latin America, including in Chile and Venezuela, and the Europe, where the capitals of Portugal and Slovakia would see new postings in the coming months.