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Virendra Kapoor | July 19, 2004
Promises are meant to be broken.
After announcing with fanfare that he would go strictly by seniority in matters of postings and promotions, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh has just ridden all over the time-honoured principle.
The appointment of Shyam Saran, an Indian Foreign Service officer from the 1970 batch, as foreign secretary has resulted in the supersession of six of his seniors.
Saran, doubtless a well-regarded officer, has in turn decided to appoint two of his batchmates, Shashi Tripathi, currently high commissioner in Canada, and Rajeev Sikri, already posted at the headquarters, as secretaries in the ministry.
Saran proposes to revert to the earlier system when, besides the foreign secretary, there were but two secretaries in the ministry, one designated secretary (east) and the other secretary (west). The six IFS officers whom Saran superseded may have made themselves unavailable for appointment under him.
The minister has also decided to promote controversial IFS officer Vijay Kumar to the rank of secretary.
The new foreign minister has chosen to ignore Kumar's controversial background. Apparently, the diplomat painted himself a victim of the old regime, citing his ties with the Congress (his father was a minister in Punjab several years ago).
Natwar Singh, a partisan pursuing the politics of confrontation with the BJP, was only too willing to believe the worst of the earlier regime, unmindful of the ties Kumar had developed with the likes of then human resources development minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and other Sangh Parivar leaders.
While on the foreign service, in an unprecedented move the external affairs ministry has extended the services of India's ambassador to Belarus, Tara Singh, for a year upon his retirement from the IFS at the end of June.
In officialese, it is not called an extension but 're-employment.' But Foreign Office veterans do not recall another case of an ambassador being given such 're-employment' upon reaching the age of superannuation. The action violates the Pay Commission's recommendations and specified service rules circulated by the Cabinet Secretary.
A little bird whispers that Tara Singh owes his good luck to the fact that CPI-M General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who was in Minsk for an eye operation, intervened on his behalf with the powers-that-be in New Delhi.
A relative matter
There is more to Navtej Sarna's transfer and reinstatement, in quick succession, as spokesman of the external affairs ministry than meets the eye.
An order announced that Sarna would be posted as joint secretary, disarmament. He was to be replaced as spokesman by Dalip Sinha, who was till recently India's deputy high commissioner in Bangladesh.
Two days later the order was rescinded.
Sources in the ministry were quoted in the media as saying that Sarna would continue as spokesman to ensure 'continuity.' Now this is a new excuse. The same line could well be advanced to retain all ambassadors in their respective foreign capitals.
Insiders believe the real reason for the reversal of Sinha's appointment is that he is a nephew of former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha.
When Natwar Singh learnt of Sinha's family ties with his predecessor, he is said to have immediately ordered Sarna's retention as spokesman.
Curiously, the dinner lined up by the ministry's external publicity division to bid Sarna farewell was not cancelled and the usual suspects in the media and mnistry had a good time.
Several ministers in the Manmohan Singh government are still hunting for houses.
One reason is the reluctance of their predecessors to vacate their bungalows. So, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Mani Shankar Aiyar thought he had got a lucky break when he zeroed in on a plush bungalow on Kamaraj Road, a stone's throw from Parliament House, being vacated by the former Nawab of Pataudi, Mansur Ali Khan.
The Aiyars gave up shortlisting houses and planned to move into the well-appointed bungalow when an unusual snag cropped up.
Apparently, the house is a favourite haunt of the monkeys who swarm the leafy parts of the complex housing central government offices. But that is not such a problem.
The problem is some time ago, a young monkey was badly mauled by dogs owned by the Pataudis' neighbour. Ever since, groups of monkeys swoop down on that and nearby houses in surprise raids to impose their form of reprisals.
This information was enough to make the Aiyars change their mind about moving into the house that Pataudi and his actress wife Sharmila Tagore vacated.
They have resumed their search for a decent house all over again.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh