Key ambassador appointments await Modi govt 3.0, foreign secretary & deputy NSA in race for US


New Delhi: As the dust settles on the Lok Sabha elections, filling key ambassadorial vacancies abroad will be a foreign policy priority for the Narendra Modi government 3.0.

The key appointments include that of the Indian ambassador to the US in Washington DC, a post that has been vacant since the end of January this year, after career diplomat Taranjit Singh Sandhu retired.

Sandhu had returned from US and joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Punjab’s Amritsar seat, but lost to the Congress’s Gurjeet Singh Aulja.

ThePrint has learnt that Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra — a 1988 batch Indian Foreign Service officer — and Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) Vikram Misri — who has previously served in China — are in the race for the position of ambassador to the US.

However, there is also precedent of the Indian High Commissioner to the UK being transferred to Washington.

In 2016, Navtej Sarna was appointed as ambassador to the US after a one-year stint in London. It is also possible for Canada High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma, who is senior to Misri, to be considered for the position in Washington DC.

Making the choice of who will be India’s representative will be crucial for the new government, since it comes at a time when there is an upswing in bilateral ties with Washington DC, but issues like the alleged assassination plot of US-based Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun also loom.

The new envoy will have to work with the US government to ensure that certain pending key appointments in the Indian Embassy there are cleared by the US administration.

The ambassador will also have the responsibility to steer the relations with the US back to track at a time, when the country’s presidential elections are drawing nearer. US President Joe Biden will be seeking a second term against former president Donald Trump.

In India, envoys are selected in keeping with India’s priorities, the requirements in a particular mission as well as the individual’s level of experience, seniority, and regional and professional expertise.

The President approves the appointments based on the recommendations of the prime minister. The Ministry of External Affairs usually nominates a name for a particular posting to the prime minister, and then he approves it.

Another key vacancy to be filled will be that of Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations (UN) in New York.

The position fell vacant after Ruchira Kamboj, the first Indian woman to occupy the post, retired on 1 June.

This is a high-profile appointment as the diplomat represents the country at the UN headquarters. The likes of Chinmaya Gharekhan, a distinguished member of the IFS who also served under two prime ministers, have occupied the post in the past.

In the Philippines, the Indian Embassy has been without an ambassador since Shambhu S. Kumaran’s tenure came to an end this February. Manila has emerged as an important capital amid tensions in the South China Sea between China and its neighbours. Philippines is also a key defence market for India, with the country having recently purchased BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles from New Delhi.

In late March, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar paid an official visit to the Philippines and asserted India’s strong support for Manila’s efforts to uphold its sovereignty.

At the time, Chinese and Filipino vessels had clashed in disputed waters. Jaishankar’s remarks later drew a sharp reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry, which said “third parties” had no right to interfere in maritime disputes.

There are also vacancies for Indian ambassador positions in Africa, where the Modi government has made it clear that it wants to “re-energise” its diplomatic footprint. There are vacant posts in African countries like Liberia, Sudan and Tanzania.

Indian envoys posted in a foreign country technically do not have a fixed tenure, but the average is usually three years, two former ambassadors told ThePrint. There are exceptions with “hardship postings” in Category ‘C’ countries like Afghanistan and others, they added.

Ambassadors like Jawed Ashraf, serving in France since August 2020, and Tanmaya Lal, serving in Sweden since December 2020, have exceeded the three-year mark.

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)

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