The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lalit on Orissa route to Rajya Sabha

New Delhi, Aug. 4: India’s ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh, whose tenure ends on March 31, is likely to get a Rajya Sabha nomination from Orissa.

Four seats to the upper House of Parliament from Orissa will fall vacant by early next year and indications are that chief minister Naveen Patnaik may nominate Mansingh as one of the four Biju Janata Dal candidates from the state.

There is also a strong possibility that foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, whose tenure in South Block comes to an end this November, may replace Mansingh as India’s envoy in Washington.

Sources said Mansingh had been trying for a Rajya Sabha nomination and even sounded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But there were too many aspirants who wanted a nomination from the government’s quota, which included media and sports personalities, musicians and artistes.

Under the circumstances, Orissa appeared to be a better option. It also happens to be his home state.

The sources said Patnaik has expressed his keenness to nominate Mansingh in the hope that the seasoned diplomat will be able to articulate the problems of the state.

If Sibal is appointed India’s ambassador to Washington, it will be twice in quick succession that a former foreign secretary has been sent to head the important mission. Mansingh was sent as ambassador to Washington soon after he retired as foreign secretary three years ago.

Though Sibal has more than three months in office, the race for the foreign secretary’s post has already begun.

There is also speculation on whether he would be given a short extension, particularly in view of the normalisation process between India and Pakistan and the possibility — if things go well — of a summit-level meeting between the two Prime Ministers by early next year.

But sections in the foreign ministry argue that since the government has made it clear that it would not give extension to any official beyond the retiring age of 60, any exception in the case of Sibal may be difficult to explain.

Secretary (Africa-Europe-Asia) Shashank, who is the senior-most after Sibal, has a good chance of becoming the next foreign secretary. The 1966-batch IFS officer is due to retire on July 31, which means he would have a nearly eight-month stint.

However, the sources said, the government may think of bringing in someone who has at least a year’s service left. In that case, the ambassador to Spain, Dilip Lahiri, has a good chance of making it to the foreign secretary’s post as he retires in July 2005.

Though P.K. Singh, India’s ambassador in Brussels, also has nearly one-and-a-half years before he retires in April 2005, his indifferent health could rule him out.

Indications suggest that Lahiri may be sent to New York as India’s permanent representative in the United Nations to replace Vijay Nambiar, who retires by September this year. If Lahiri opts for it, then Shashank’s chances of becoming foreign secretary would brighten.

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