When former foreign Secretary S Jaishankar walks into the Ministry of External Affairs to take charge as minister for foreign affairs, it will be a homecoming of sorts for him.
Jaishankar was a surprise inclusion in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet that was sworn into office on Thursday. Rumours of his taking the foreign minister’s job began floating as soon as he was seen seated on the special dias created to seat all the 57 ministers.
But for people who have an inkling of how the prime minister works, Jaishankar’s appointment as foreign minister would have been no surprise. According to people familiar with the developments, with Jaishankar in South Block and Ajit Doval’s reappointment as National Security Advisor, Modi’s national security team is now in place.
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During Jaishankar’s three year term as foreign secretary between 2015-18, he was seen as a bureaucrat close to Modi – the Prime minister’s “go-to person" and crisis manager. Jaishankar was appointed foreign secretary in January 2015 in rather unusual circumstances -- after Modi dismissed then foreign secretary Sujatha Singh to appoint him to the post, just days before his retirement.
It was testimony of Modi’s trust in Jaishankar that the prime minister gave him an extension after his two year term came to an end in January 2017. Modi was also reportedly insistent that Jaishankar travel with him on almost all his foreign trips prior to his retirement in January 2018. After his retirement, Jaishankar had taken a job in the private sector – with the Tata group as the president for its global corporate affairs.
High profile, astute, quick witted and clear thinking are some of the ways Jaishankar has been described over the years.
Son of the strategic affairs doyen K. Subrahmanyam, Jaishankar is also known as the architect of the India-US nuclear deal signed in 2008. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Phil in International Relations besides an M.A. in Political Science.
He came in touch with Modi when the latter travelled to China as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2012. It is believed that former prime minister Manmohan Singh wanted to appoint him foreign secretary in 2013, but at the last minute he appointed Sujatha Singh to the post.
In a diplomatic career spanning more than three decades, Jaishankar has been ambassador to key countries like the US and China. An Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer of the 1977 batch, his early posting abroad was in the Indian embassy in Moscow from 1979 to 1981. Between 1981-1985, he served as under-secretary in the Americas and Policy Planning Divisions of the Ministry of External Affairs. Besides a posting as first secretary in the Indian embassy in Washington in the early 1980s, Jaishankar also served as First Secretary and Political Advisor to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka.
After steering the India-US nuclear deal talks in New Delhi as joint secretary Americas, Jaishankar was appointed Indian high commissioner in Singapore. That was before his appointment as Indian ambassador to China.
Jaishankar’s tenure as India’s ambassador to China coincided with major developments in relations between the two countries. His 2010 briefing to the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security regarding China’s refusal to issue a visa to the head of the Indian army’s Northern Command led to a suspension of Indian defence co-operation with China, before the situation was resolved in April 2011. It Jaishankar is also credited with negotiating an end to the Chinese policy of issuing stapled visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir in 2010. He is also seen as having played a critical role in defusing the 73 day long Doklam crisis between India and China in 2017.
Jaishankar’s last posting abroad was as the Indian ambassador to Washington when Modi made his first visit to the US as prime minister. The organisation of a successful public event with Indian-Americans in Madison Square Garden as well as coordinating meetings with then US president Barack Obama were seen as feathers in his cap and led to his appointment as foreign secretary in 2015.