Harsh Vardhan Shringla appointed India’s next Foreign Secretary

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India’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla has been appointed India’s new Foreign Secretary. Photo: Peter Ferreira.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s Ambassador to the United States, has been appointed as the next Foreign Secretary. Shringla will take charge on January 29, 2020, after incumbent Vijay Keshav Gokhale’s two-year term ends the previous day.

Shringla’s appointment was cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the order by the Department of Personnel and Training, reports said.

An Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1984 batch, who topped the civil services exam that year, Shringla has held several important positions in his diplomatic career spanning 35 years. He has served as India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Thailand, apart from serving in France, India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in the US, Vietnam, Israel and South Africa.

Shringla has worked closely with India’s Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar when he was Foreign Secretary (2015-2018), and Jaishankar is understood to have strongly endorsed his appointment to the top job in the Foreign Service, reported The Hindu.

In particular, Shringla’s handling of India’s neighborhood will be valued in his new assignment, given recent tensions with Bangladesh over the CAA-NRC controversy, China’s new inroads in Nepal and other South Asian countries, as well as continuing tensions with Pakistan, which have practically derailed the SAARC process, the report said.

“He is a highly respected professional with a proven track-record of competence and performance, both at headquarters and in sensitive assignments abroad,” former Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha told the Hindu.

Shringla completed his undergraduate education at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University after being schooled at Mayo College, Ajmer. He worked in the Indian corporate sector prior to joining the Indian Foreign Service.

Shringla went on his first ambassadorial assignment to Thailand and served for two years from January 2014 to January 2016. He has the distinction of being the youngest Indian Ambassador to Thailand, according to Wikipedia.

Shringla served with distinction as High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh from January 2016 to January 2019. During his time in Bangladesh, the bilateral relation between India and Bangladesh witnessed huge strides towards a multi-faceted bilateral relationship. He played a pivotal role in the successful visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, to India in April, 2017, adding a new chapter to strengthening bilateral relationship, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as heralding of a ‘Sonali Adhyay’ or a ‘Golden Era’ in the bilateral ties.

One of the major landmarks of Shringla’s career was the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh for which he worked as a Joint Secretary during the UPA era. He also lobbied for the bill in Parliament and briefed MPs personally to build consensus, reports said.

Shringla assumed charge as Indian Ambassador to the United States on January 9, 2019 as the youngest Ambassador of India to the United States. He received a rousing welcome at the Congressional Reception hosted by the Senate India Caucus and Congressional Caucus on India which was attended by an unprecedented 67 Members of the US Congress, including Senators.

A highlight of Shringla’s tenure in the US was his planning and organization of the hugely popular “Howdy Modi” event in Texas, that saw President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi address a rally together. The meet was widely publicized and reported, and was deemed a success.

Shringla has actively engaged with US think-tanks where he has spoken, participated in round-table discussions and given keynote speeches on various topics related to India-US relations and on other topics of mutual interests to both countries, according to Wikipedia. In April of this year, Shringla addressed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he emphasized upon the need to preserve a global order based on international rules that all can adhere to.

In a panel discussion in California, at the Bay Area Council Pacific Summit on Economic Prosperity in the Century of the Pacific, on June 21, 2019, Shringla spoke at length about the business opportunities in the “rising India” and urged the Governor to lead a business delegation to India as well as open a trade office in India.

Addressing a sizable gathering of students and teachers at the Harvard Kennedy School on December 8, 2019, Shringla stated that the chariot of the Indian economy was moving forward and all the conditions for India to become a superpower in the 21st century were present. He added that India took 60 years to become a trillion-dollar-economy and another 12 years to become a 2 trillion dollar economy, 5 years from 2014 to 2019 to become a 3 trillion dollar economy, and it aims to become a 5 trillion dollar economy by 2025.

“I look forward to performing my duties to the best of my abilities under the guidance of our leadership,” Shringla was quoted as saying, of his new appointment, by the Hindu.

In an interview to Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, held at the Indian Consulate in New York, on April 4, 2019, Shringla spoke about his interaction with President Trump, when he went to the White House to present his credentials.

“…I can say that the meeting I had with the President in order to present credentials is one I remember with a lot of positive sentiment because the warmth, the candor and the good will that he expressed when he met me was truly unique, I think. He was very affable, very kind. I would even say jovial, and I left with a very good feeling of his sentiments first and foremost for India, and of course, his very close relationship to the Prime Minister (Modi).”

He added: “In fact, he (Trump) said he had just spoken to the Prime Minister and he was looking forward to speaking to him again, and he was looking forward to, more often. I think that reflects the progress we have made in the last few years. It’s because of the account of the leadership exercised by both President Trump and by Prime Minister Modi.  The relationship has led with a level of the principals and that makes it easier for all of us to implement the basis on which both leaders attach importance to the relationship.

“President Trump has always touted ‘America First’. And Prime Minister Modi has touted ‘India First’. Both are right in their own way. But when it comes to the area of trade, there is the likelihood of certain difference of ways of looking at trade, and trade wars.

“With regard to what you said about ‘India First’ and ‘America First’, I think you would have seen that Prime Minister Modi has made a statement saying there is no contradiction between ‘America First’ and ‘India First’. Both countries have priorities, but we are both engaged in cooperating in areas that are mutually beneficial. And there are lots of areas where we have complementarities. And these are areas in terms of investment, and in terms of trade, in terms of economic exchanges we are engaged in. And that is reflected in the figures,” Shringla said in the interview.

Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Founder and Chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and Chairman, ITV Gold, congratulated Shringla on his new appointment.

“Ambassador Shringla was very well liked, extremely approachable and a popular ambassador in the US. It was a pleasure to work with him to promote Indo-US relationship through our media.  He was a great guide and mentor to us. I wish him all the best in his new job as India’s Foreign Secretary,” said Dr. Parikh.

K V Kumar, President & CEO, Executive Board, Indian American International Chamber of Commerce, too congratulated Shringla.

In a statement, Kumar commended Shringla for “the tremendous positive impact made during his short tenure with the US government, private and public sectors, and Indian American community organizations in the US.” He also noted Shringla’s significant contributions in US-India relations in addition to trade and foreign policy issues.

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