As expected, the day was open. As expected, there were inside stories. As expected, Sujatha Singh’s resignation letter found its way to the media. And as expected, there was the war of words between Congress and BJP.
The turf for the controversy that was laid Wednesday night when the Narendra Modi government removed Sujatha Singh with a terse order that ‘that curtailed her tenure with immediate effect’ gained further ground on Thursday and got the concluding part on Friday with Sujatha Singh opening up and clearly speaking out her grievances.
In effect, it is going to change nothing.
The decision has been taken and implemented and the new Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, has taken charge. The facts – that Mr. Jaishankar was the first choice of even the former prime minister Manmohan Singh when Sujatha Singh, a year senior to Mr. Jaishankar, was made FS in August 2013 – and that Mr. Jaishankar’s exposure to the P5 countries as well as his stints with Japan and Sri Lanka that gives him an upper hand in Modi’s scheme of things for Indian foreign policy centered on having broader engagement at the world stage – further shorten the life of the controversy beyond two-three days on ‘newsworthiness’.
Yes, but it does validate the premise that left us in bad taste – owing to the unhealthy ‘suddenness’ of the unceremonious exit – the way she was forced to resign – and the timing of it – Barack Obama left India on January 27 afternoon and the order came around 10 PM on January 28.
A Foreign Secretary is sacked immediately after a highly publicized and successful event of Indian foreign policy when no one was talking about it, when no one had expected it – it was bound to get questions and was a fertile ground for controversy ahead.
Even if she was already sidelined as the insider accounts say.
Even if she was not willing to step down as the insider accounts said and as was validated by her account today – the Narendra Modi government clearly erred here.
The argument that Mr. Jaishankar was retiring on January 31 and it was necessary to appoint him before that date falls flat when we go by the example of Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to Narendra Modi, who was appointed after retirement, even if meant bringing a Bill in the Parliament.
If the government had so made up its mind long before this unceremonious episode as the insider accounts say that she had fallen out of favour and was not being consulted on important issues like ‘cancelling the India-Pakistan FS talks’, it could and should have done it much earlier. After all, it was in August that the talks were called off.
Now, there can be an argument that as Narendra Modi was much impressed by Mr. Jaishankar after his successful US tour in September 2014, it was logical that Mr. Jaishankar would remain the Indian envoy to the US till completion of Barack Obama’s India visit as the chief guest of the Republic Day Parade, and therefore it continued with Mrs. Sujatha Singh.
But if we take that as a possible reason, it further validates that the ‘sudden decision’ could have been avoided. She could have been told in the similar clear terms earlier that forced her to write the resignation letter on January 29. Or if the government waited for so long for the reasons known only to it, it could have waited for some more days with the last call made to Sujatha Singh to make her mind to move. After all, with the government on his side, no one was going to stop Mr. Jaishankar from being the Indian Ambassador to the US even after his retirement date.
The ‘Sujatha Singh resignation’ controversy is not expected to play out longer than tomorrow or the day after tomorrow but it is going to remain there with her genuine question that she asked in an interview today – “My reputation is being maligned, my record being trashed. Why was this necessary?”
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–/