S Jaishankar: The right fit for external affairs

Key challenges for Jaishankar would include Iran, India’s trade deficit with US and China.

S Jaishankar: The right fit for external affairs
S Jaishankar, India’s longest serving foreign secretary in recent times, was least expected to be among the Union council of ministers, but his inclusion as external affairs or commerce minister can bring in the expertise needed to navigate the choppy waters of a world order that’s being threatened by the US-China trade war.

Simultaneously, the key challenges for Jaishankar in his new role would include Iran, the US trade deficit with India and the country’s trade deficit with China. However, with his deft negotiating skills, he could be the right man for the job.

In a surprise move, Sushma Swaraj was dropped as external affairs minister and commerce minister Suresh Prabhu did not find place in Modi’s new cabinet.


Jaishankar’s experience has been vast: he has been foreign secretary, India’s longest-serving envoy in Beijing and an ambassador to the US. He has handled tricky issues with Washington – among them, the civil nuclear deal and the Devyani Khobragade issue.

As Donald Trump heads towards a re-election bid, trade issues between India and the US could be the biggest irritant in bilateral ties. This is where Jaishankar’s expertise and network may come in handy. Similarly, his wide experience in dealing with China would prove useful in shaping ties with the neighbouring country.

Jaishankar, son of late K Subrahmanyam, one of India’s leading strategic analysts, was a key member of the Indian team that negotiated the landmark Indo-US civil nuclear deal. His relationship with the US goes back to the 1980s, when he served as Under Secretary (Americas) and Policy Planning in the ministry of external affairs headquarters between 1981 and 1985. He then spent three years from 1985 as First Secretary handling political affairs at the Indian embassy in Washington. Then, as Joint Secretary (Americas) between 2004 and 2007, Jaishankar was one of the key men behind the India-US nuclear deal. Earlier, he had dealt with Indo-Japan commerce relations when relations came of age after Pokhran II. Similarly, he played a key role in shaping Indo-Singapore economic ties as high commissioner.
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Jaishankar emerged as Modi’s unofficial foreign policy adviser and accompanied him to destinations that foreign secretaries traditionally did not visit – the Indian Ocean region, Canada, South Korea, Africa, West Asia and Southeast Asia. He is well read, articulate, knowledgeable and has a realistic view of foreign policy.

And yes, there’s the personal chemistry that Jaishankar shares with the PM. Jaishankar caught Modi’s attention when he visited China as Gujarat chief minister in 2012. The meetings with important Chinese personalities that Jaishankar had set up for Modi impressed him – the CM was not exactly a popular world leader then.

While Indian envoys in some other countries that Modi visited as CM did not accord him adequate importance, Jaishankar proved to be different.
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