Harsh Shringla’s appointment as the next foreign secretary has come against the backdrop of several Indian envoys in key world capitals and multilateral bodies being either set to retire or complete their terms, and he is expected to work closely with external affairs minister S Jaishankar to choose new officials to fill these slots.
The United States: Shringla took over as the envoy in Washington in January, and the government is yet to name the official who will replace him when he returns to Delhi next month.
This is probably the most important world capital for New Delhi right now, with India and the US working closely together on issues ranging from counter-terrorism to the Indo-Pacific. However, trade differences have emerged as a contentious issue that is expected to top the agenda for Shringla’s successor.
The United Kingdom: Ruchi Ghanshyam, one of the three officials superseded by Shringla, is the current high commissioner to Britain and she is set to retire next year.
The next envoy to London will have the task of guiding bilateral relations as the UK goes through the complex task of exiting the European Union. Some 800 Indian companies use the UK as a base for their European operations and safeguarding trade ties will be among the tasks for the next high commissioner.
Canada: India’s last high commissioner to Ottawa, Vikas Swarup, returned to headquarters earlier this year and the post is yet to be filled.
According to the buzz within the external affairs ministry, Ajay Bisaria, who was the envoy to Islamabad and was forced to leave after Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations, is tipped to be the next high commissioner to Canada. The diplomat holding this post will have the onerous task of improving the currently testy relationship between New Delhi and Ottawa – largely a result of the handling of bilateral relations by the Justin Trudeau government in its first term.
United Nations office in Geneva: Rajiv Kumar Chander, another of the officials superseded by Shringla, is currently India’s permanent representative in Geneva and he too is set to retire soon. The post is crucial for India now in view of efforts by Pakistan and its ally China to raise issues such as Kashmir at the various organs of the UN.
United Nations headquarters in New York: India’s envoy to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, who was seen by some as a possible contender for the post of foreign secretary before the government zeroed in on Shringla, is set to retire in 2020.
There is buzz within the external affairs ministry that he could be given some sort of role even after his retirement in view of the outstanding work he has done in protecting and promoting India’s interests at the UN, especially on issues such as Pakistan’s meddling in the Kashmir issue, counter-terrorism and matters taken up at multilateral forums.
Nepal: India’s envoy to Kathmandu, Manjeev Puri, is set to retire at the end of the year and his successor is expected to be named soon. Nepal currently plays a key role in India’s “neighbourhood first” policy in view of the inroads made by China in the Himalayan country in recent years through major infrastructure projects that are part of its Belt and Road Initiative.