THE Centre’s recent decision to give one year-extension to foreign secretary and 1977 batch IFS S Jaishankar last week beyond his two-year-long fixed term did not raise any controversy as such. He is considered a highly efficient officer and has done a good job in the last two years after he was appointed in a not-so-smooth change of guard two years ago by curtailing the tenure of the then foreign secretary Sujatha Singh. But the one year bonus to Jaishankar, that too after making changes in a British era rule (a provision of Fundamental Rules, 1922) has, however, ended hopes of at least three senior-most IFS officers who were hoping for the top job. There were speculations that…India's Ambassador to China and 1981 batch IFS Vijay Gokhale would be brought in to replace Jaishankar, which would have meant Gokhale superseding a number of his seniors in the foreign service. Gokhale who was the high commissioner to Malaysia and the Ambassador to Germany before moving to China as India’s envoy, will retire only in January 2019, and hence, he is still a contender to be the foreign service’s top job even if the government decides to further amend the rules and gives yet another one-year-extension to Jaishankar beyond January 2018.
But this extension means, diplomats such as Anil Wadhwa of 1979 batch and Sujata Mehta of 1980 batch will not get a chance to reach the top. Wadhwa, who had earlier served as secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) and played a key role in monitoring the evacuation of Indian nationals from Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, is currently India’s ambassador to Italy. He will retire in the end of May. Had the government gone ahead purely by the formula of senior-most IFS getting the top job and did not engineer changes in a 1922-rule to facilitate yet another year’s extension to Jaishankar, it was Wadhwa who would have been India’s next foreign secretary. But the government is not bound to go by seniority alone.
In the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the diplomat next to Jaishankar in terms of hierarchy is 1980 batch IFS and secretary (west) Sujata Mehta. She had earlier served as a joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Ambassador to Spain and Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. She returned to the South Block in July 2013 as additional secretary and was later elevated as special secretary and secretary.