S Jaishankar's tenure as foreign secretary comes to an end: A look at how he matched up to his predecessors

With just weeks to go for S Jaishankar's tenure as foreign secretary to end, focus will be on his contribution to India's foreign policy establishment.

The fact that Jaishankar was dramatically propelled to the top post was itself a testimony to his worth to the current dispensation at the Centre. Moreover, he was given an extension by the Narendra Modi government last year. Various media reports have already called Jaishankar Modi's unofficial foreign policy advisor.

Nevertheless, many of Jaishankar's predecessors too have played a key role in shaping India's foreign policy in the 21st Century.

Lalit Mansingh (1999 to 2001)

A highly-distinguished diplomat, Mansingh took over just days after Atal Bihari Vajpayee stormed back to power in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

While India was reeling under sanctions in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, it was during Mansingh's tenure that Vajpayee made the ice-breaking visit to the US in September 2000.

In addition to his term as foreign secretary, Mansingh also helped in nurturing India-US ties under the Bush regime.

Kanwal Sibal

The 1966-batch IFS officer's tenure will mostly be remembered for Vajpayee's path-breaking visit to China, which led to considerable normalisation in bilateral relations as well as the historic visit of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in September 2003. It was also in his tenure that India refused to send troops to Iraq in the aftermath of US' invasion of the country. ​

Shyam Saran (2004 to 2006)

Like incoming foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and Jaishankar, Saran was an experienced hand in dealing with China.

As foreign secretary, Saran was at the forefront of negotiating the India-US nuclear deal, which was signed in July 2005. As foreign secretary, Saran focused on ensuring that India got the best of the deal, with a waiver from NSG over not signing the NPT.

After his retirement too, Saran continued to work on the nuclear deal as Manmohan Singh's special envoy.

File image of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. Image courtesy: Indian embassy in Washington DC

File image of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar. Image courtesy: Indian embassy in Washington DC

Shiv Shankar Menon (2006-2009)

Menon, who came from a family of distinguished diplomats, was handpicked by the Manmohan government in 2006. Along with Saran and Jaishankar, it was Menon as the foreign secretary who led the initiative to seal the India-US nuclear deal.

In a significant development, it was during his term that India and Pakistan decided to rejuvenate the peace process after General Pervez Musharraf's exit in 2007.

In October 2008, both arch-rivals allowed cross-LoC trade as a "confidence building measure." However, the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks did not help matters improve between the two countries.

Nirupama Rao

Rao had a distinguished career with many feathers in her cap: The first woman envoy to Beijing, the first woman spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs and the second woman foreign secretary. As the head of the diplomatic corps, Rao, as noted by The Tribune, had to deal with the immediate neighbourhood.

Rao, to her credit, was responsible for kick-starting the peace process with Pakistan in 2011. It was also during her tenure that India was elected to the UNSC as a non-permanent member with the highest votes.

S Jaishankar (2015 to present)

In Jaishankar, the prime minister found a man who was on the same page as him and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, a January 2017 Firstpost article noted.

With experience in handling the US — he was India's envoy to Washington DC before taking over as foreign secretary — as well as China considering he was one of the longest serving ambassadors to China, Jaishankar fit well into Modi's view of having closer economic ties with both countries.

Jaishankar will be remembered for three major contibutions to India's foreign policy:

1) India's open engagement with the US-led Western world, keeping aside the now irrelevant stance of non-alignment, as noted by Hindustan Times.

2) India's embrace of "regional initiatives" by focussing on regional initiatives like BIMSTEC, after SAARC remained a non-starter after 2016.

In October 2017, he called SAARC a "jammed vehicle" and added that members of the BIMSTEC are "broadly aligned" and "articulate similar aspirations".

3) The upswing in India-Israel relations as Modi became the first prime minister to visit the Jewish state. At the end of the three-day visit, India had upgraded its relationship with Israel to strategic partnership.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018 10:18 AM

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