Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to appoint Shiv Shankar Menon as the next foreign secretary, defying expectations that present incumbent Shyam Saran would get a year's extension in office, was "always on the cards", insist highly placed sources.
"He is a competent officer and his appointment was very much on the cards," said sources, who did not want to be identified.
That Menon had been in Delhi for the last four days was further testimony that an announcement was imminent and he would be the natural choice.
"Yes, there was a school of thought that believed in order to ensure continuity in critical areas of foreign policy, particularly the Indo-US nuclear deal, Saran would get an extension. But that issue has been resolved with him being appointed special envoy," said a senior PMO official.
It is also reliably learnt that Saran was reluctant to accept an extension that would run till September next year, but was not averse to taking up another assignment.
According to government sources, Menon, who is India's high commissioner to Pakistan, was tipped of his new assignment some days ago.
What was also playing on the government's mind was Menon would have had to supersede a number of officers if he was appointed foreign secretary this year.
Had Saran been given an extension, letting him complete his third year in September 2007, many of other contenders would have retired, allowing for Menon to step into his shoes smoothly.
"All these factors were considered. But considering that Menon was a competent officer who had excelled himself in both Pakistan and China earlier and also the goodwill he enjoyed in the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) made him a top choice for the post," said sources.
Saran, who was appointed foreign secretary in June 2004, had developed a good working relationship and equation with Singh, particularly after Natwar Singh resigned from the post of external affairs minister in December last year.
He was a crucial factor in key foreign policy challenges, including the handling of the power transition in Nepal, the management of relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and China and of course, the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Two months back, Singh sidestepped established convention by giving a year's extension to Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi even though there were four other contenders for the country's top civil service post.