Noting that he comes from a family of bureaucrats and that his goal had been to become a secretary, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday recalled the time his father, Dr K Subrahmanyam, was removed as Secretary, Defence Production by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi soon after she came back to power in 1980 and when he was superseded during the Rajiv Gandhi period with someone junior to him becoming the Cabinet Secretary.
In an interview with news agency ANI, Jaishankar spoke at length about his transition from foreign service to politics, where the political opportunity to serve as a Union minister came as a “bolt from the blue” in 2019. Jaishankar, who served as Foreign Secretary from January 2015 to January 2018, said that he had aspired to be the “best officer” and wanted to get elevated to the post of Foreign Secretary.
“I wanted to be the best foreign service officer. And to my mind, the definition of the best that you could do was to end up as a foreign secretary. In our household, there was also, I won’t call it pressure, but we were all conscious of the fact that my father, who was a bureaucrat, had become a Secretary but he was removed from his secretaryship. He became, at that time, probably the youngest Secretary in the Janata government in 1979,” Jaishankar told ANI’s Smita Prakash.
Recalling his father to be an upright person, Jaishankar added, “Maybe that caused the problem, I don’t know. But the fact was that as a person he saw his own career in bureaucracy, actually kind of stalled. And after that, he never became a Secretary again. He was superseded during the Rajiv Gandhi period by somebody junior to him who became a cabinet secretary. It was something he felt…we rarely spoke about it. So he was very, very proud when my elder brother became secretary.”
After his father passed away in 2011, Jaishankar said he became a secretary to the government. “I had got what you would call Grade 1 which is like a secretary ….like an ambassador. I did not become secretary, I became that after he passed away. For us, at that time the goal was to become a secretary. As I said I had achieved that goal. In 2018, I was kind of very happy to walk away into the sunset…but, I ended up walking not into the sunset but into Tata Sons! I was contributing my fair bit there. I liked them, I think they liked me. Then completely as a bolt out of the blue, the political opportunity came. Now the political opportunity for me was something I needed to think about because I was simply not prepared for it….So I did reflect on it briefly,” said Jaishankar.
Reflecting on being invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be a part of his Cabinet, Jaishankar said, “Once I entered, I must say in all honesty I myself was very unsure. I had watched politicians all my life. One of the things you get to do in foreign service are… you see politicians up close because you see them abroad, you are kind of working with them closely, counseling them. So, it’s one thing to watch but to actually join politics, to become a cabinet member, to stand for Rajya Sabha, you know when I was selected, I was not even a member of Parliament. So each of these things happened one by one. I slid into it, sometimes without knowing it. You learn by watching others,” he added.
Jaishankar, who joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1977, said he looks “very carefully at what people are doing both in my party and other parties”.
Jaishankar, now a BJP MP who represents Gujarat in Rajya Sabha, said his time as Union minister has been a “very interesting four years”. “I don’t think it’s so much a question of winning friends. Yes, it does help when you are a diplomat, in a sense I was trained I would say to get along, to get the most out of situations. Some of it also, different people are made in different ways. You would see, I very rarely get into anything personal with people, even when I am provoked at times. I think people are just made in different ways. I would say this, it will be four years this summer. It has been a very, very interesting four years. When I look at these four years, for me actually it’s been four years of very intense learning, going to a state which I had really very little knowledge of,” said Jaishankar.
The exposure he got as a bureaucrat was very different from the one he got as a minister, Jaishankar said. “Your exposure, every cabinet meeting…let’s say there are 10 items, it could be on agriculture, it could be on infrastructure. But you get a cabinet note, you read the note, you are interested, you will study a little bit more. So your interest broadens. When your interests broaden, and you go out there and speak to people, it will show.”
Jaishankar also hit out at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi over the Opposition party’s statements on the government’s response to China’s aggression on the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Jaishankar said that it is not the Congress leader but Prime Minister Narendra Modi who sent the Army to the Line of Actual Control as a countermeasure to troop deployment by China and the opposition party should have honesty to look at what happened in 1962.
Jaishankar said the Modi government had increased the budget by five times to ramp up border infrastructure. “When did that area actually come under Chinese control? They (Congress) must have some problem understanding words beginning with ‘C’. I think they are deliberately misrepresenting the situation. The Chinese first came there in 1958 and the Chinese captured it in October 1962. Now you are going to blame the Modi government in 2023 for a bridge which the Chinese captured in 1962 and you don’t have the honesty to say that it is where it happened,” said Jaishankar.
Jaishankar further told ANI, “If I would have to sum up this China thing, please do not buy this narrative that somewhere the government is on the defensive…somewhere we are being accommodative. I ask people if we were being accommodative who sent the Indian Army to the LAC (Line of Actual Control). Rahul Gandhi did not send them. Narendra Modi sent them. We have today the largest peacetime deployment in our history on the China border. We are keeping troops there at a huge cost with great effort. We have increased our infrastructure spending on the border five times in this government. Now tell me who is the defensive and accommodative person? Who is actually telling the truth? Who is depicting things accurately? Who is playing footsie with history?”
Source: Indian Express