Two days after she was abruptly relieved of her post, former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh said Friday that her reputation has been tarnished by adverse stories coming out about her on social media and that “it was not necessary to get low and dirty”.
Singh, who sought early retirement after the Narendra Modi government appointed S. Jaishankar to replace her Wednesday night, told NDTV news channel in an interview that she believed in team work and in strengthening the institutional framework of the external affairs ministry.
Without referring to her successor, she said she has always believed in keeping a low profile and if she had wanted she could have beaten the drum about her achievements all these years.
At the outset, Singh said that she was doing the interview “because I felt that I needed to do it, because I want an honourable exit; I don’t meant a tenure as an ambassador, I don’t mean a tenure in the UPSC, I mean an exit in keeping with what I have been as an individual, in keeping with what I have been as an officer, with what I have been as a foreign secretary”.
She said the “commentary” that she has seen about herself over the past two days “has pained me deeply. I believe that it was not necessary to get low and dirty”.
“I wanted to give in my papers and leave, without any ceremony and without any fuss, but unfortunately that has not been the case, and I believe that my reputation has been tarnished. I believe the social media has gone into overdrive and I believe that there are stories that are being planted that tarnish whatever I have been as an officer over these years in service,” she said.
She said that her exit was “probably a decision that had been taken, and that nothing I could have done would have made a difference”.
Taking credit for the successful foreign policy overdrive of the Modi government, she said: “The first eight months of the new government’s foreign policy engagements have been intensely successful. They have been the most charged and successful engagement of any new government that you can think of. And they went beautifully.
“It was the MEA that delivered, and it was a team of dedicated officers, men and women in my ministry, and in our embassies and posts overseas who did the meticulous preparation and who delivered under my leadership. I brought it all together.”
On the just-concluded visit of US President Barack Obama, Singh said she had worked very closely with the PMO.
“All the elements that came together. How many ministries were involved… The administrative arrangements and the liability clause for the civil nuclear deal – I gave directions, I gave guidance, I gave advice, I coordinated it very closely with the PMO while doing this,” she said.
She said despite the intensive work her ministry put to make the foreign visits and diplomatic engagements successful, there was “negative feedback from time to time on what the MEA was doing” but she was told not to take it personally as it happens with other ministries too.
“I knew things were not going quite right because I did not have the one-on-one interaction with the prime minister that I had repeatedly asked for,” she said, and added that she was sounded out three weeks ago if she wanted to move to another post with a tenure.
Singh said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj conveyed to her 2 p.m. Wednesday that Modi wanted Jaishankar in her place.
“The EAM called me at 2 p.m. and told me she had some not so pleasant news to give me… that the PM wants Dr Jaishankar as his foreign secretary. I think she was a little surprised that I wasn’t more taken aback, because at the back of my mind, I had my letter for my early retirement ready. I was earlier planning to have a letter of resignation ready but I was told I would lose my retirement benefits.”
Singh said she wrote her letter, saying “that as instructed by the PM, I hereby request for early retirement”. Then she first informed her husband and her parents because she did not want them to hear from the media, went back to her office and cleared her desk of all pending files, before submitting her letter to the minister at between 7 and 8 p.m.