The swift change in the foreign office underscored Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sustained strategy to build a team of bureaucrats who, as analysts pointed out, would have the government’s confidence to deliver on its priorities.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the 60-year-old ambassador to the US, took charge on Thursday as foreign secretary after his predecessor, Sujatha Singh, was retired six months before time.
She was not the first official to be handed the pink slip after the BJP swept to power in May last year.
The government cut short DRDO director general Avinash Chander three-year term by 15 months and told him go a fortnight ago.
In November, Special Protection Group chief K Durga Prasad was told his services were no longer needed. The order came when he was in Nepal — protecting Modi.
The government had shunted out finance secretary Arvind Mayaram and revenue secretary Rajiv Takru to make way for Rajasthan chief secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and Hasmukh Adhia, the additional chief secretary in Gujarat.
An official said Modi relies heavily on bureaucrats to design, package and execute his ideas — a space where the highly-experienced Russian and Mandarin-speaking Jaishankar fits easily.
The government was pressed for time because it had to appoint him before January 31 as the next foreign secretary, a post that gives him two more years in service. Had it been a day late, Jaishankar – who turned 60 this month – would have had to retire from service.
Singh became the second foreign secretary to lose her job after AP Venkateswaran in 1987.
Venkateswaran put in his papers after then PM Rajiv Gandhi snubbed him for apparently announcing a visit to Pakistan without his approval a month in advance. “You will be talking to a new foreign secretary soon,” Gandhi had said.
The officer later told his friends: “Life without honour is not worth living at all.”
In 2004, the Congress-led UPA government sacked cabinet secretary Kamal Pande who was serving a two-year fixed term. Pande, however, accepted a “post-retirement” posting as chairman of the India Trade Promotion Organisation.