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Sujatha Singh removal: Why did Modi keep Sushma Swaraj in the dark?

By appointing S Jaishankar as India's foreign secretary, the PM has confirmed more than one rumour.

 |  IST  |  2-minute read |   29-01-2015
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The late night removal of Sujatha Singh as foreign secretary has sent ripples across New Delhi and through the echelons of the foreign policy establishment, but it confirms two things that have so far only been spoken about in whispers: The total control of prime minister Narendra Modi on India’s foreign policy, and consequently, the complete marginalisation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj from the key decision-making involved in the projection of India’s foreign policy.

Fact is, Swaraj had no clue that the prime minister was about to name Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the highly accomplished envoy to the US until yesterday, to the top job in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), even though enough gossip around such a possibility had been in the air since Modi took charge in Delhi in May 2014.

It has also been said that Sujatha Singh was offered the option of an “honourable exit” over a month ago, as a member of the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC), a constitutional body, according to Rediff.com. Such a job brings with it the security of a five-year job and privileges like accommodation in Lutyens' Delhi (nothing to be sneezed at, to be sure) a car and other such-like glitter.

Perhaps Sujatha should have seen the writing on the wall, which is that between the prime minister and her, “mel nahi kha raha tha,” as the phrase goes in Hindi, meaning, that she wasn’t able to “deliver the outcomes” that he wanted in the big-ticket relationships, whether Japan, China, Russia, Afghanistan-Pakistan or the US.

So even as he marginalised Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha during the Manmohan Singh era and thereby a key opponent within the BJP – first by giving her a ministry where she would have as little as possible contact with domestic politics, and second, by cutting her off from the decision-making inside the foreign policy establishment – Modi looked for someone from within the Foreign Office who could deliver on taking forward the relationships with the above-named countries.

Sujatha was sweet, nice, well-intentioned – but she certainly didn’t have the cut and thrust that comes with the ability to hone steel inside a velvet glove. It was a matter of time before she fell out of favour with Modi and was relegated to her corner room in the foreign office.

As for Sushma Swaraj, the lady is off to Beijing tomorrow to do the preparatory work for a Modi visit to China. She has been a pair of safe and sturdy hands in the last few months in the ministry of external affairs and a source of great strength and encouragement to its officers. Even as she got increasingly marginalised, she worked even harder. Swaraj’s extraordinary competence in the MEA is a story that few know about – and even fewer will tell.

Writer

Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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