1. In the corridors, there is no second opinion about Jaishankar’s talent as a diplomat. Soon after BoI posted in social media sites about his appointment as India’s new foreign secretary, former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao commented: ”Outstanding choice”, prompting many others to engage in a debate. By the way, Jaishankar was the topper of his batch.
2. Mind it. Jaishankar, and not Sujatha Singh, was the first choice of Manmohan Singh’s PMO too when the question of foreign secretary’s appointment cropped up in 2013. The then NSA Shivshankar Menon and the then principal secretary to PM Pulok Chatterji favoured Jaishankar, but the weak PMO then decided to avert a possible row when Sujatha Singh wrote a letter to the PM stating that Jaishankar’s elevation (he is a batch junior to her) would force her quit the service.
3. Narendra Modi too understood Jaishankar’s talent from day one. According to highly-placed sources, Jaishankar was asked to join the PMO as an adviser though the move would have created a more visible rift between the PMO and external affairs ministry (MEA). But the idea was dropped when Jaishankar reportedly showed reluctance to move to the South Block as an adviser, a post considered more for retired officers. Now, he will be the foreign secretary of the PMO, not MEA.
4. Jaishankar’s role in turning around the Indo-US relations post-Devyani Khobragade episode also played a role in his elevation. India-US ties reached the nadir when 1999 batch IFS Khobragade was strip-searched and humiliated in New York in a case of alleged visa fraud and underpaying of a domestic help. Without naming Khobragade, Jaishankar acknowledged publicly in a talk at the Carnegie Endowment last year that it was a “truly distressing” time, and what Indo-US ties needed were “maintenance” and “from time to time, an upgrade”.
5. Mandarin-speaking Jaishankar was a successful envoy to China as well. A successor of some of the most talented diplomats like Shivshankar Menon and Nirupama Rao in Beijing, Jaishankar too at times outmanoeuvred the Chinese diplomacy. But he publicly acknowledged that that a lot more needed to be done in case of India-China ties. He said, the relations probably moved about only 20 points up in the last one decade. By the way, he could impress Modi when the latter as the then Gujarat chief minister visited China to woo Chinese investors.
6. Jaishankar’s elevation was also aided by PM Modi’s reported assessment that Sujatha Singh was a mediocre. Her downward graph surfaced after Modi’s visit to Japan in September last year when she accompanied him. By the time, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was organized early this month, it was known in the inner circle of the corridors that her tenure might be cut short. Only a fortnight ago, the order about the unceremonious exit of another high-profile bureaucrat, DRDO chief Avinash Chander, was issued.
7. Jaishankar’s understanding of nuclear diplomacy also helped him to move to the top. As the then joint secretary in the MEA, Jaishankar played a key role in the run-up to the Indo-US nuclear deal, 2008. A product of St Stephen’s college, his PhD specialization was nuclear diplomacy, a subject dear to his father's heart. Jaishankar is the son of former IAS and doyen of India’s strategic affairs K Subrahmanyam, known in his circle as KS or Subbu.
8. Finally, a technical reason promoted Jaishankar to get his new appointment letter this week itself. He turned 60 years on January 9, which means according to rules, he would retire on January 31, the last day of the month. So, he must take charge as the foreign secretary before he retires. The January 28 ACC order said, Jaishankar was appointed as new foreign secretary for two years “under provisions of FR 56(d)”.