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Shringla picked as foreign secretary shows Modi govt values experience more than seniority

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, a 1984-batch IFS officer, supersedes three seniors — Ruchi Ghanshyam of 1982 batch and 1983-batch officers Rajeev Chander and Amita Nair.

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New Delhi: India’s Ambassador to Washington Harsh Vardhan Shringla will be the country’s next Foreign Secretary. His appointment superseding three of his seniors is an indication of a growing trend in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) that it’s not the senior-most officer who always gets the coveted post.

Shringla, a 1984-batch officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), has superseded three of his seniors — Ruchi Ghanshyam of 1982 batch and 1983-batch officers Rajeev Chander and Amita Nair.

“This is clearly indicative of a trend under the Modi government that not always the senior-most will get the post of foreign secretary and then seek a year’s extension to complete the tenure. That is clearly done away with,” a senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs told ThePrint.

The official said it was known months ago that Shringla will be made foreign secretary, and not Ghanshyam who retires in April 2020. Chander and Nair will retire in August 2020 and early 2021, respectively.

The foreign secretary post comes with a two-year tenure. If any diplomat with one year of service left is appointed to the post, the official gets an automatic extension for one year. Under the current government, however, it has almost become a rule that no such diplomat becomes a foreign secretary and gets extension in service.

The only exception was made in the case of former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, who is now the external affairs minister.

‘Robust work experience’ criterion for the post

Ever since the Modi government came to power, it has been made clear that whoever becomes foreign secretary has had a “robust work experience”, a source told ThePrint, adding the officer must have served as India’s envoy either in Washington or Beijing so as to effectively steer the country’s foreign policy.

Incumbent Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale served as India’s Ambassador to China before he was appointed to the post. Jaishankar too had served as India’s ambassador to both the US and China.

“It is the most apolitical appointment. The post of foreign secretary is only based on work experience and merit. Shringla has more than two years of service and so he can complete the entire tenure without seeking an extension. In today’s world, age is still a necessary requirement but not sufficient,” said a former Indian ambassador to France.

According to another retired Indian diplomat, the experience in the US, China as well as in the neighbourhood is key under the present dispensation.

With increasing focus on the neighbourhood, it has become a “must” criterion that the officer who becomes foreign secretary knows the neighbourhood well, said the former diplomat.

On this front, Shringla fits the bill to don the role he has been chosen for. He has served as India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh and was instrumental in forging strong ties between Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Also read: Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s Ambassador to US, set to be new foreign secretary


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