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Jaishankar replaces Sujatha Singh as foreign secretary, Congress questions change
Thursday January 29, 2015 9:21 PM, IANS

S. Jaishankar, India's envoy to the US who was seen as having played a catalytic role in the turnaround in bilateral ties, Thursday assumed charge as India's foreign secretary. The Congress, however, questioned the government decision to "curtail the tenure" of his predecessor Sujatha Singh and demanded an explanation for the abrupt change.

The government Wednesday night appointed Jaishankar, an Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1977 batch, as the new foreign secretary. The cabinet's Appointments Committee, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, decided to "curtail the tenure" of singh "with immediate effect".

The surprise announcement came a day after US President Barack Obama wound up his three-day state visit during which India and the US saw a breakthrough announcement on the stalled civil nuclear deal.

The Congress questioned the government's decision, linking it to the visit of the US president and Singh's stand on the Devyani Khobragade issue.

"Foreign secretary is head of foreign services... before you start gerrymandering with seniority and fixed tenure, you need to very categorically explain as to what is the reason doing so," Congress leader Manish Tewari told IANS.

"The decision coming as it does two days after the US president's visit... Is there a linkage between the stand which Sujatha Singh took on the Devyani matter and this is a belated retribution?" he said.

In December 2013, Khobragade, India's then deputy consul general in New York, was charged by US authorities with committing visa fraud and providing false statements in order to gain entry to the US for Sangeeta Richard, a woman of Indian nationality, for employment as a domestic worker for Khobragade in New York.

The diplomat was arrested the following day by US federal law enforcement authorities. The Indian government took up the issue strongly.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, retorted that it is within the government's right to take decisions on appointments.

"I don't see any reason for hue and cry. A government is within its rights to decide how it would like to appoint what officers and with what responsibilities. And this is not the first time..... Preceding governments have taken (such) decisions," BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said.

Taking up his new job at South Block, where the ministry of external affairs is housed, Jaishankar said: "My priorities are the government's priorities."

He is known to have developed a close rapport with Prime Minister Modi who was impressed by his abilities to get things done.

Jaishankar, who was to have retired from the diplomatic service on Jan 31, said he was "honoured" to be given the responsibility. Sujatha Singh was not present at his takeover event. Jaishankar later met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

As India's ambassador to the US, he played a key role in bridging the widening gulf in relations between the US and India after he took over in December 2013, especially in the wake of Khobragade's arrest in New York over her maid's immigration status, and also played a major role in arranging Modi's hitch-free, high-profile visit to the US last September, officials said.

Jaishankar was one of the key officers who negotiated the nuclear deal with the US as joint secretary (Americas) from 2004 to 2007 in the ministry. He was previously the envoy to China before moving as envoy to the US. He had also been posted as ambassador to Singapore and the Czech Republic, and did stints in Sri Lanka and Russia.

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