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Season of shake-ups at South Block

New Delhi, June 23: The season of lobbying is over. Now, it’s that time of the year again when the postings and transfers in the high-profile ministry of external affairs are in the offing.

Top of the charts is India’s ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shanker Mukherjee, who is going to London as India’s high commissioner, after Kamalesh Sharma, the incumbent, moves on to contest the post of secretary-general to the Commonwealth when elections take place in November.

Mukherjee, who played a key role in the peaceful transition of Nepal politics from monarchy to democracy in April 2005, was bound to get one of India’s top jobs anyway.

So when he, along with 16 others, was superseded by Shiv Shankar Menon when he became foreign secretary towards the end of 2006, the case-sensitive matter acquired even greater urgency.

The other key appointment is of Prabhat Shukla as ambassador to Russia, from his current job as high commissioner in Australia.

Shukla belongs to the old, elite guard in the foreign ministry which still speaks some Russian and believes that Moscow, even in its present avatar, is capable of affecting the turn of world politics.

Shukla’s appointment means that India’s current envoy to Russia, Kanwal Sibal, will now return home.

Sibal was one of three political appointees of the UPA government in August 2004, besides Ronen Sen in Washington DC and Sharma in London.

Sen stays on in the US till March while Sharma contests the top job at the Commonwealth.

As for India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, another of India’s top assignments, it is widely speculated that Hardeep Puri, currently New Delhi’s envoy in Brazil, was promised a good move when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Brazil in October last year. He may take over from Nirupam Sen, currently on extension.

The third big move is to do with Rakesh Sood, India’s envoy in Kabul, who will move to Nepal as ambassador when Mukherjee goes to London.

Sood is widely accepted to have been one of India’s most successful envoys in Afghanistan, and despite his quiet demeanour, oversaw vital progress in the bilateral relationship.

Dinkar Srivastava, currently in Libya, will succeed Sood in Kabul, perhaps his toughest assignment to date. Srivastava, going by his record, seems to have little idea of the special flavour required for unusual nations like Afghanistan.

It’s never the money — though the special privileges that India offers to serve in that country must help considerably — or even a shortened tenure of two years (all other postings are of at least three years).

It’s a certain ‘ce’st la vie’ that is accentuated by a sense of history, even poetry, of the great game, and above all, a sense of mission and adventure. Sood clearly had it. India awaits Srivastava’s take on one of the most interesting countries in the world.

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