Envoy to U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla to be next Foreign Secretary

Envoy to U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla to be next Foreign Secretary

He will take charge on January 29 after incumbent Vijay Keshav Gokhale’s “two-year term” ends a day before.

The government has appointed India’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla, an expert on India’s neighbourhood, as the next Foreign Secretary.

According to a notification from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, Mr. Shringla will take over from current Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on January 29, for a two-year tenure.

Mr. Shringla has worked closely with Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar when he was Foreign Secretary (2015-2018), and Mr. Jaishankar is understood to have strongly endorsed his appointment to the top job in the Foreign Service.

In particular, Mr. Shringla’s handling of India’s neighbourhood will be valued in his new assignment, given recent tensions with Bangladesh over the CAA-NRC controversy, China’s new inroads in Nepal and other South Asian countries, as well as continuing tensions with Pakistan, which have practically derailed the SAARC process.

During various stints at the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Shringla has headed the Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives (BSMM) desks, and served as joint secretary (North) dealing with Nepal and Bhutan, as well as joint secretary (SAARC).

“He is a highly respected professional with a proven track-record of competence and performance, both at headquarters and in sensitive assignments abroad,” former Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha told The Hindu.

One of the major landmarks of Mr Shringla’s career was the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) for which he worked as a Joint Secretary during the UPA era. He also lobbied for the bill in Parliament and briefed MPs personally to build consensus.

He travelled across the land and water boundaries of Bangladesh and India and prepared the text of the agreement that ultimately was sealed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh visit in June 2015. As High Commissioner to Bangladesh subsequently, Mr. Shringla coordinated India’s aid to the Rohingya camps, and navigated tensions on the issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar, both important neighbours for India.

Earlier, in 2014, when he was Ambassador in Thailand, India conducted a major security operation to extricate top Khalistani insurgent Jagtar Singh (Tara). As part of the secret understanding that Mr. Shringla negotiated, the Thai government launched a nationwide drive that led to Mr. Singh being caught in Southern Thailand and put on a plane back to India.

After his tenure in Dhaka, Mr. Shringla was sent to Washington in January this year, which saw some significant highs and lows in Indo-U.S. ties in the recent past. Mr. Shringla planned and organised the “Howdy Modi” event that saw U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Ministe Narendra Modi address a rally together, and strengthened India-U.S. defence ties considerably during his short tenure.

However, unresolved trade issues remain, even as ties with the U.S. Congress have come under a strain over criticism from various committees and particularly Democrat lawmakers over the government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir, continued detentions and Internet shutdown, and protests over the Citizenship Act. In that sense, the new Foreign Secretary will be most tested on just the areas he has the most experience in.

Mr. Shringla called the post an “honour and privilege”.  He also said “I look forward to performing my duties to the best of my abilities under the  guidance of our leadership, “ he added, speaking to The Hindu.

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