Former IFS officer S. Jaishankar created history on Friday as he became the first former Foreign Secretary to become External Affairs Minister.
Assuming charge of his office a day after being sworn-in as Minister, Jaishankar was received by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on his arrival at the South Block.
Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan also assumed office on Friday.
Jaishankar’s former colleagues said it is the first time in the history of the Indian Foreign Service that a retired Foreign Secretary has been directly made Foreign Minister.
They said he has a clear vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy and there will be continuation of the initiatives taken in the first term.
They also recalled Jaishankar’s contribution to the Indo-US nuclear deal, saying he was the right-hand man of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during that time.
Bhaswati Mukherjee, who is President of the Association of Indian Diplomats (AID), said Jaishankar was one of the rare officers who has expertise on almost all of India’s neighbours, particularly China.
She said he was in many ways the author of nuclear agreement with the US.
“It is Jaishankar, when he was Joint Secretary, Americas, who negotiated this deal for India. Subsequently, when he went to Singapore as High Commissioner, Jaishankar used to be called back to the MEA to complete the negotiations and discussions. So he was (then)Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s right hand man for the 123 (agreement),” she said.
Mukherjee, a former Ambassador to The Netherlands, said Jaishankar is a very good administrator and modest.
“He has a clear vision of Prime Minister’s foreign policy which he outlined in Raisina Dialogue in 2018,” she said, adding that India was now in a big strategic partnership with the US and Australia.
“We are going to find a very close synergy between Prime Minister Modi, National Security Advisor (Ajit Doval) and our new External Affairs Minister. This synergy was already there but with Jaishankar now sitting in that post, it is going to be great,” she said.
Mukherjee, who has known Jaishankar for long, said she was a great admirer of his father, strategic affairs expert K. Subrahmanyam “who first spelt out what is India’s nuclear doctrine”.
“And now we have Jaishankar, who is going to be our External Affairs Minister. It is excellent choice,” she said.
Jaishankar, she said, has a very clear idea how to manage relations with Pakistan and China which are totally in tune with Modi’s imperatives.
On former IFS officers who became Foreign Minister, she said that there was K. Natwar Singh, who held the post but not immediately after retiring and he only rose to the post of Secretary, East, not Foreign Secretary.
Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, a former Secretary in the MEA, said it is “a very, very good appointment” because Jaishankar has been Foreign Secretary in Modi’s tenure and has a “very good personal equation with the Prime Minister”.
Chakravarty, who knows Jaishankar for nearly 40 years, said he is “a real intellectual”.
He said Jaishankar and Modi share a vision and that’s why the Prime Minister preferred to appoint him.
“It is also a very historic appointment. No Foreign Secretary ever has become an External Affairs Minister,” he said.
He also referred to Jaishankar’s contribution in finalising the Indo-US nuclear deal.
On the way ahead, Chakravarty, who has been High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Ambassador to Thailand, said: “There will be continuation of the robust foreign policy initiatives taken in the first term. I think we will see continuation of that and more intense engagement with some of our neighbours and some Asean countries.”