New Delhi: Vinay Mohan Kwatra, a career diplomat for over 32 years, will be India’s next Foreign Secretary, succeeding Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who retires on 30 April.
Kwatra, from the 1988 batch of the IFS, is not the most senior officer in service. But he speaks French fluently and has a sound knowledge of India’s bilateral relationship with the US as well as China, as he has served in both the missions.
He was posted in Beijing twice between 2003 and 2006, first as Counsellor and thereafter as Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy of India. From May 2010 till July 2013, he served as minister (commerce) in the Embassy of India, Washington D.C.
Kwatra’s appointment comes at a time when India’s neighbourhood is fraught with challenges — Pakistan is facing a constitutional crisis, Sri Lanka is reeling under an unprecedented economic crisis, Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban, and the Maldives is seeing a growing anti-India sentiment.
India is also facing a tough border stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh for nearly two years now. And to top it all, New Delhi has now come under tremendous pressure from the West to call out Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Name had been doing the rounds
Kwatra’s name was announced by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet Monday, but his name had been doing the rounds in the Ministry of External Affairs as the next Foreign Secretary for over a month now. But with challenges in the neighbourhood increasing, there were also whispers in the corridors of South Block, where the ministry is located, that Shringla may get an extension.
Other names which seemed to be front-runners apart from Kwatra were India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who is also from the 1988 batch, and also Ajay Bisaria, a 1987-batch IFS who is India’s High Commissioner to Canada.
A retired diplomat who refused to be named told ThePrint that Kwatra was able to supersede some of his seniors because his work came in the limelight owing to the fact that he worked in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as joint secretary from October 2015 till August 2017.
From August 2017 till February 2020, Kwatra served as the Ambassador of India to France, and was instrumental in implementing the Rafale fighter jet deal, under which India bought 36 aircraft off the shelf. His predecessor as India’s envoy to France, Mohan Kumar, who is now the chairman of RIS, a Delhi-based think tank, called him “a solid officer who is extremely capable, quiet and competent”.
“His knowledge of how the government functions is tremendous and to become an efficient Foreign Secretary, that is more important than what foreign language you know. He has served in the neighbourhood, the US and China… In today’s time, that is extremely important to become India’s Foreign Secretary. He ticks all the right boxes,” said veteran diplomat Kumar.
Most recently, Kwatra, who has been India’s envoy to Nepal since March 2020, managed the crisis that emerged when the Himalayan country changed its political map in May 2020 and included the disputed territories of India as its own. Kwatra was able to arrest the bilateral ties from falling further, which culminated in the visit of Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba to India last week.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)