It is the lull before the storm. The Ministry of External Affairs’(MEA) façade seems still, but the wheels are still moving, albeit quietly and circumspectly.
Ever since the election code of conduct kicked last month, MEA has gone off the radar, except for a few days when Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission voted on a resolution on Sri Lanka.
Despite the appearance that the government is on an auto-pilot mode, MEA officials claim there are still works going on. “We have scheduled a lot of official-level talks, which haven’t taken place for some time during this period,” said an official.
Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh travelled to Beijing and Moscow last week, in a not-so-subtle message that Indian foreign policy is all about continuity, and does not change with regime. Her fellow secretaries are also following suit, with Secretary (west) Dinkar Kullar paying a visit to Latin America. He held the first ever foreign office consultations with Guatemala there and also visited Argentina.
Secretary (east) Anil Wadhwa visited Lebanon and Jordan in the last week of March. Again, without any publicity, Wadhwa had gone to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where he inaugurated the India Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Asian Textile Museum. India-US East Asia dialogue also took place during this period, for which two joint secretaries had visited the US.
Visitors were also willing to visit India during this fallow period. The official-level India-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue was held here on Friday, with the Vietnamese vice foreign minister leading his country’s delegation.
“If you go by the media reporting on the government machinery during the poll period, it seems we are the only ministry that is working right now. It shows the bureaucrats are the real architects of foreign policy,” quipped a MEA official.
Work goes on, even if admittedly, the pressure is not that high. Babus also indulge in a game of predicting the next political master, keenly debating the pros and cons of various names floating in the Delhi grapevine. Some IFS officers have already contacted their batchmates in other services, who have worked in the Gujarat government, to gauge the working methods of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
While the South Block officials are known to remain in office till 7-8 in the evening, most now have the luxury to work as per scheduled office hours.
“Thankfully, there have been no major flare-ups in our neighbourhood with either Pakistan or China during this period. We are having some breather right now. It’s like the lull before the storm. We expect the next few months after the new government takes over to be crazy,” said an official.
The key territorial divisions are also fine-tuning their briefs for the new minister.“Once the new minister joins, he is likely to ask for an immediate briefing on Pakistan, China and the neighbourhood. So, the brief has to be drawn up in such a way that it updates the minister, without confusing him by providing too much information in the very first round,” explained an official.
While the MEA territorial divisions are chugging along, there is not much change in the work load of the functional divisions. The development partnership department has to continue to service the various lines of credit and projects, while the finance division has to ensure the numbers make sense. They also have to make the papers ready for the budget process to start, once the government is formed. The legal division has not been referred to any bilateral agreement during this period, but legal officers still have to work on cases going on in various courts.
The light has been off in Salman Khurshid’s room for over a month as he campaigns in his constituency, but South Block may not have seen the last of him. Officials say that he may be back after his constituency goes to polls on April 24. “He has to still sign off on a number of files, sanctioning tours and minor agreements,” said an official.