S S Menon, who served in Israel, China and Pak, is new Foreign Secy

In appointing India's current envoy to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, as the next Foreign Secretary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has engineered a rare moment in the South Block.

In having Menon succeed Shyam Saran, who completes his term at the end of September, Singh has ensured that he continues to get top-grade professional advice from the Foreign Office.

Over the last two decades, the Foreign Office has not seen one exceptional diplomat follow another into the top slot and stay there for a reasonable length of time. Both Saran and Menon are widely rated as among the best of their generation in the Indian Foreign Service.

Thanks to the decision by the PM not to go by the principle of seniority alone, Menon will be in charge of Indian diplomacy for more than two and a half years.

To be sure, there will be a lot of grumbling at the fact that Menon, who belongs to the 1972 batch of the IFS, will be jumping over the heads of a number of his seniors from the earlier batches as well as his own.

As in the appointment of Saran, who also superseded a number of his seniors, so in the case of Menon, the political leadership is sending a strong signal that merit indeed matters in the selection for top bureaucratic jobs.

Menon has served as India's ambassador to Israel, Sri Lanka and China, and has just completed three years as the High Commissioner to Pakistan. It is not just the number of posts, but his impressive achievements in all the places that appears to have clinched the decision in favour of Menon as the next Foreign Secretary.

In the bitterly competitive Indian Foreign Service, it is not often that you get compliments from your colleagues. Kishan Rana, one of Menon's senior colleagues in the service, has called Menon the "lucky general" of Indian diplomacy.

In his treatise on bilateral diplomacy, Rana highlights Menon's genius to make things happen or be at the right place at the right time. His tenure in Israel saw a rapid expansion of bilateral relations and in Colombo, Menon got the bilateral free trade agreement through.

Menon, who is a fluent Chinese speaker, played a key role in resolving the Sikkim dispute with Beijing and devising a new framework for negotiations on the boundary question, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited there in June 2003. Six months later, he was present at Islamabad, when Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan and unveiled a new basis for Indo-Pak peace talks.

Menon belongs to the third generation of a family that has represented India with great distinction around the world. His maternal grand father K P S Menon (Sr.) was among the leading lights of the Indian Foreign Service in its early years.

His father P N Menon had served in many capitals and in Lhasa as India's Consul General and died in harness as India's ambassador to Hungary. Menon's maternal uncle, K P S Menon was India's envoy to China and retired as India's Foreign Secretary in the late 1980s.

Saran is special envoy for n-deal

NEW DELHI: Outgoing Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran will be India's special envoy for negotiations with the US over the civilian nuclear cooperation deal that is yet to be approved by the US Congress.

The deal has been approved by the US House of Representatives while the Senate is due to vote on it next month.

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