S Jaishankar during the swearing-in ceremony held in New Delhi | Photo: PTI
It caused some heartburn in South Block, which houses the Ministry of External Affairs, when the Narendra Modi government cut short the tenure of Sujatha Singh by seven months in January 2015 and appointed S Jaishankar.
Not that Jaishankar’s abilities or credentials as a diplomat were ever in doubt. The problem was his superseding a couple of senior officers. Jaishankar, for the next three years — from January 2015 to January 2018 — drove the Modi government’s foreign policy. South Block sources would say Jaishankar, like few others in the MEA, understood the PM’s mind.
Jaishankar impressed Modi when the latter met him during his visit to China as Gujarat chief minister in 2012. As the foreign secretary, Jaishankar emerged the crisis manager as well as organising some of the PM’s most successful visits abroad, including to the UK and the US. Jaishankar was also given an extension after his two-year term ended in January 2017. Jaishankar would also travel with the PM to most of his key overseas trips.
Jaishankar is a 1977-batch Indian Foreign Service officer. He was joint secretary of the Americas desk at the MEA and a key member of the Indian team that negotiated the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal. The deal, initiated in 2005, was eventually was signed by the Manmohan Singh government in 2007.
During his tenure as foreign secretary, Jaishankar, along with current foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, played an important role in resolving the crisis following the incursion in Ladakh's Depsang and the Doklam stand-off with China, handling the tough negotiations with Beijing.
Apart from India’s envoy to the US and China, Jaishankar has been India's High Commissioner to Singapore and Ambassador to the Czech Republic. In 2019, Jaishankar was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of the country. After retiring from government, Tata Group appointed Jaishankar as its president for global corporate affairs.
Jaishankar, born in 1955, is the son of the late K Subrahmanyam, one of India's leading strategic analysts. He did his schooling in New Delhi, graduated from St. Stephen’s College and studied international relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Jaishankar has a doctorate in international relations.
Jaishankar was at JNU around the same time as Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury and Nationalist Congress Party leader D P Tripathi. One of his brothers is historian Sanjay Sabrahmanyam.
In his long career, Jaishankar has also served as the press secretary for former President Shankar Dayal Sharma. One of Jaishankar’s earliest postings was to Moscow from 1979 to 1981. He served as under-secretary in the Americas and Policy Planning Divisions of the Ministry of External Affairs from 1981 to 1985.
He also served as first secretary in the Indian embassy in Washington in the early 1980s and first secretary and political advisor to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. He has also served in Budapest and Tokyo. He was appointed ambassador of India to the Czech Republic and served in Prague till 2004.
As India’s ambassador to China, Jaishankar handled some tricky issues. In 2010, Jaishankar briefed the Cabinet Committee on Security when China refused to China refused to issue a visa to the head of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, which later led to a suspension of Indian defence co-operation with China. The situation was resolved in April 2011, and there was a time when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted to appoint Jaishankar as foreign secretary superseding Sujatha Singh in 2013 itself.