External Affairs minister S M Krishna resigned this afternoon, putting an end to a lacklustre performance in the three years since the second UPA government came to power in mid-2009. His resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, setting the stage for what is expected to be an exhaustive reshuffle on Sunday at 1130 am.
Several names are in circulation to succeed Krishna, including commerce minister Anand Sharma, HRD & telecom minister Kapil Sibal, law and minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid and I&B minister Ambika Soni.
According to one source, Sharma is supposedly the top candidate of the Sonia Gandhi family, while Sibal is the preferred choice of the PM.
In any case, for three years, Krishna was foreign minister mostly in name, with the PM and his national security adviser, Shivshanker Menon, giving much of the strategic direction. And, the commerce minister intelligently used economics to create room for political manoeuvre, especially in South Asia and particularly in Pakistan.
Krishna, in fact, will be remembered not because he scaled any towering heights or blazed the track with oratory but because he either failed to remember to participate in important meetings or mistook important documents. An example of the first is his absence from two important meetings on the margins of the UN General Assembly last month, at the BRICS’ foreign ministersâ meeting and that of the G-4 foreign ministers, representing Germany, Japan, India and South Africa, all of whom are claimants for permanent seats in the UN Security Council.
It appears he’d left Bangalore for Dubai, from where he was supposed to catch a connecting flight to New York but overstayed. As a result, he missed both meetings and India was represented by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
As for mistaking one thing for another, Krishna’s biggest gaffe has been reading the speech of the Portuguese foreign minister last year, soon after India became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (this tenure is going to end in December). It transpired the ‘wrong’ speech was on top and Krishna didn’t look twice.
Last month in Islamabad, as he stood next to the charming and sophisticated Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, he looked exceedingly drawn in comparison. The 34-year-old Pak minister spoke with eloquence and passion, not once referring to her notes, while Krishna constantly seemed unsure of what he wanted to say.
Khar’s sterling performance might have touched a weak spot, what with TV channels quoting Krishna today as saying he wanted to “make way for younger people”.
Still, the enormously patient and forbearing external affairs ministry might have swallowed all of the above, making private jokes about their boss but manfully bearing up in public, if it were not for the fact that Krishna’s factotum and private secretary, Raghavendra Shastri, was seen to be interfering in the appointment of senior diplomats. Not until a few months earlier when low-key Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai wrested back the power to award or deny positions to the diplomatic corps has the MEA been able to breathe easy.