The woman behind PM Modi’s hugely successful diplomatic venture: Sujatha Singh

Sujatha_Singh_2013_(cropped)PM Modi is on a ride! Everything that he touches seems turning to gold. The diplomatic venture so far too has been hugely successful, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi getting great accolades for his diplomatic maneuverings.

If there is one woman in MEA whose role can be lauded for creating a phenomenal foreign policy for PM Narendra Modi, it has to be the 1976 batch IFS officer Sujatha Singh. This is despite the fact that Sujatha Singh was almost ousted from her present post after the new NDA Government came in power. Rumour mills were agog that PM Modi was considering bringing India’s ambassador to the US S. Jaishankar to the PMO as adviser, and thus running the MEA from PMO itself, as he is doing with few other ministries.

Sujatha Singh could impress Modi through her flawlessly organized almost a mini-SAARC summit, that too in a week’s notice, outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This event proved to be a diplomatic coup for Modi, even before he had stepped into his Prime Minister’s office. Thereafter, Sujatha Singh has been playing a key role in making all the PM’s foreign visits a thundering success. PM Modi has visited several countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Japan, US and each visit has been greatly acclaimed. The preparations for all mega diplomatic events were flawless, and in most of the occasions, foreign secretary was seen by the side of the PM ensuring that nothing goes wrong.

Sujatha Singh and her team adroitly handled the issue of Chinese incursion at the time of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India last month. Good diplomacy curbed a potential bad press then. Even with Pakistan, India’s diplomacy now is quite measured, not giving enough headroom for any so called excitement without substantive discourse.

Indian diplomacy, however, scored its biggest victory of the recent time when it pulled all its strings to secure the release of 46 nurses briefly held by ISIS militants. The nurses were moved to Mosul before setting them off on the way to Erbil, Iraq’s fourth largest town.

Sujatha Singh is the daughter of TV Rajeshwar who served as Intelligence Bureau chief in 1980s, and later, was made the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Her husband Sanjay Singh, now retired, was a fellow diplomat. Despite being a woman, years of diplomacy in the family has trained Sujatha Singh to fight out in cases of adversity. She continued to give her best even when MEA corridors were abuzz with the work shifting from her to PMO. Her appointment as Foreign Secretary in July 2013, in the Congress regime, too was not a cakewalk either.

Sujatha Singh in Japan

Sujatha Singh in Japan

S. Jaishankar was the favourite choice of erstwhile PM Manmohan Singh as well, when the post well vacant after superannuation of Rajan Mathai. Sujatha Singh was then serving as India’s ambassador to Germany. The other contenders for the coveted job were Jaimini Bhagwati, then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, Sudhir Vyas, then Secretary (West) and Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, then Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Reported move to supercede Sujatha Singh and other senior diplomats created a flutter within the Ministry of External Affairs. Not only Sujatha Singh, but other officers of her batch had reportedly indicated their unwillingness to work under Jaishankar, a 1977-batch officer. The government had to face discontent earlier when it had chosen Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary in October 2006 over the heads of 15 IFS officers. It had triggered a minor revolt with then Secretary (East) Rajiv Sikri submitting his resignation and two envoys – TCA Rangachari, ambassador to France, and Veena Sikri, the wife of Rajiv Sikri and then High Commissioner to Bangladesh – putting in their papers as well. Mr Rangachari was next in seniority to then outgoing Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

After Mr Menon retired as foreign secretary in July 2009, the government chose the next two foreign secretaries, Nirupama Rao and then Ranjan Mathai, on the basis of seniority. Sujatha Singh too brought up the subject of seniority and articulated in a letter to the then PM that she was ready to resign from the service if her seniority was not honoured. The then government, already surrounded by a number of controversies, preferred to avoid another row and quickly relented.

An alumnus of Delhi School of Economics, Sujatha Singh was India’s ambassador to Germany when she took over as foreign secretary. Between 2007 and 2012, she was the high commissioner of India in Australia.