Who is going to be the next foreign secretary? Vijay Gokhale was appointed to the post on January 28, 2018, for a two-year fixed term after the retirement of then Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar. The latter joined politics and became India’s foreign minister and Gokhale’s immediate boss. This has led to some piquant situations. Gokhale’s term ends in the end of January 2020. There are three probables. One, and the most likely, is India’s man in the US, Harshvardhan Shringla who reportedly has Jaishankar’s ear. He is the most favoured, though many say he might stay on in the US to help negotiate the interim FTA with the US that is in the pipeline.
However, another hopeful is India’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin. The dynamic of this appointment is obvious. But Akbaruddin is a 1985-batch officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) who retires in April 2020. Ruchi Ghanashyam, a 1982-batch officer currently posted in London also retires in April 2020, and Shringla, who is from the 1984 batch, retires only in 2022. Akbaruddin is junior to both in the service. Two other senior diplomats in headquarters, T S Tirumurthy (Secretary Economic Relations) and Vijay Thakur Singh (Secretary-East), being senior to Akbaruddin in the batch, will have to be accommodated outside the headquarters if he is brought in as foreign secretary.
The decision to select a Foreign Secretary does not follow any set pattern or convention. While the topper of the batch or the senior-most among the officers in the pool has a natural claim, on several occasions in the past, they have been ignored or overlooked.