U.N. envoy Tirumurti gets extension, government seeks ‘continuity’ amid conflict

U.N. envoy Tirumurti gets extension, government seeks ‘continuity’ amid conflict

Officials cite need for continuity during crucial period of Ukraine conflict

Amidst the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the government has decided to extend the tenure of India’s envoy to the United Nations T.S. Tirumurti for three months. According to an announcement by the appointments committee of the Cabinet, Mr. Tirumurti, who was due to retire on March 31, will now remain in the position at the rank of Secretary to the government from April 1 to June 30, 2022. The extension has also fuelled speculation about a possible extension for Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, who is due to retire in May.

At least two officials aware of the decision said the extension was granted due to the government’s desire to keep a “steady hand” and “ensure continuity” in India’s presence at the United Nations Security Council during a crucial period with the Russian war in Ukraine, where India is completing its two-year tenure this year. Another official also cited a precedent, as India’s former UN envoy Hardeep Puri (now Union Minister for Petroleum and Housing) had been given a year’s extension by the previous UPA government led by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. At the time, India had completed a year in its two-year tenure at the UN Security Council (2011-2013), and Mr. Puri’s tenure was extended, so as to maintain continuity in India’s position at the UNSC.

However, it is unclear why Mr. Tirumurti’s tenure has not been extended till December, when India’s current term at the UNSC will end. An official said the extension appeared to have been made in a “phased manner” and that a further extension could not be ruled out, if required.

A prominent voice

Mr. Tirumurti, a 1985-batch IFS officer assumed the UN Permanent Representative post in May 2020 and has been a prominent voice on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Russian war in Ukraine, and more recently, for a strong speech criticising a UN resolution adopting an “International day to combat Islamophobia”, which, he said, “elevated phobia against one religion” while ignoring other “non-Abrahamic” religions. In the past month, he has articulated India’s position on the Ukraine conflict, where despite considerable pressure from the U.S. and European allies, the government has refused to vote for any resolution criticising Russia’s actions and abstained from three votes at the UNSC and two at the UN General Assembly on resolutions brought by them. In the next few days, the UNSC is also expected to vote on a resolution brought by Russia on humanitarian issues pertaining to Ukraine’s eastern provinces which are under Russian control, and India’s vote and the UN envoy’s Explanation of vote (EoV) will be watched closely.

During its present tenure at the UNSC, India has been asked to head two important committees, the Taliban Sanctions Committee and Counterterrorism Committee, which Mr. Tirumurti has chaired, and he also happened to be President of the UNSC in August 2021, during the Taliban takeover of Kabul, when an Indian-drafted UNSC resolution 2953 was adopted. India will again assume the rotating presidency of the UNSC for the month of December 2022.

All eyes on Shringla

With the UN PR’s extension being announced, all eyes are now on whether Foreign Secretary Mr. Shringla will also be given an extension, given his role in handling India’s response to the Ukraine crisis. Mr. Shringla has received praise from the opposition for his work during ‘Operation Ganga’, to help bring Indian students stuck in the conflict back to India, and Congress leader Anand Sharma made a special mention of how the Foreign Secretary had attended calls long past midnight and arranged assistance for the students. In addition, the Modi government has given extensions in the past year to other officials leading their services, including the Home Secretary, the Director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

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