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Biswal takes office as first Indian American head of US policy on India, south Asia

world Updated: Nov 22, 2013 11:00 IST
Yashwant Raj
Nisha Biswal

Nisha Biswal became the first Indian American to be sworn in as the head of US state department's bureau of south and central Asia, which includes India as the overriding responsibility, on Thursday.

Biswal replaces Robert Blake as the assistant secretary for south and central Asian affairs, who moved recently to Indonesia as an ambassador, triggering a wholesale revamp at the office.

Biswal took oath of office flanked by US secretary of state John Kerry and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

The presence of Kerry and McDonough at the swearing in ceremony speaks volumes about the importance attached to her appointment.

McDonough pointed to her appointment as the kind Obama wanted to make in his second term. McDonough and Biswal had served together as congressional aides.

Her parents, Kanu and Lata Desai, too watched proudly as their daughter took oath of office. Biswal's daughter Kaya was not supposed to join, but a strategically-timed tantrum got her on the stage.

Biswal's parents came to the US from Gujarat when she was six.

Today, she is the most powerful US bureaucrat of an office that oversees relations with India among others.

After the swearing-in, Biswal said she plans to visit India as soon soon as the "calendars" can be synchronized. Not an easy task, she insisted.

The US department dealing with south Asia, including India, appointed another Indian Amercian Atul Keshap as the deputy assistant secretary and career foreign service officer recently.

The two of them join a growing group of Indian Americans in US administration, which has swollen under President Barack Obama's watch, filling some of the most visible positions.

Last week, Obama nominated Vivek Hallegere Murthy, an early recruit to Obama campaign, as the next surgeon general - a position sometimes called America's Doctor.

Obama also recently named Sri Srinivasan, a south Indian from Chandigarh, as a judge on the DC circuit court of appeals, which is seen as the stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Biswal's previous boss, Rajiv Shah of the US Agency for International Development, is perhaps the youngest Indian American to hold to a cabinet position.

There is a no easily available, or credible, count of Indian Americans in the administration now - but it ranges between 16 and 30, depending upon the time of the count.