MANDARINS IN SCRAMBLE FOR MANSINGH SLOT 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 29.10.00
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New Delhi, Oct. 29 :    New Delhi, Oct. 29:  It's a race most senior Indian diplomats run every two or three years. The prize: the foreign secretary's chair. Though foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh's tenure ends on March 31, 2000, many of the 20-odd participants in the race are already vying for pole position. There is speculation about Mansingh's tenure being extended by a year. This, however, seems unlikely as the government will find it difficult to justify the decision and deny other deserving candidates the chance of occupying the slot. Raising the retirement age from 58 to 60 years has already caused heartburn as it has delayed the promotions of many officials. If the government adds to this by giving an extension to the foreign secretary, it will lead to further disenchantment. Rumours are rife that India's ambassador to Paris Kanwal Sibal, who is being brought back to take over as secretary (east) from K.V. Rajen in March, may make it to the foreign secretary's post. If this happens, Sibal will occupy the top post for two-and-a-half years as he retires only in November 2003. This, sceptics feel, is too long a term. This will also mean that the government will have to ignore the claims of the 1964 and 1965 batches as Sibal belongs to the 1966 batch of the IFS. The possibility, therefore, of someone being brought in from outside in the interim is not being ruled out. The seniormost from the batch after Mansingh is ambassador to Nepal Deb Mukherjee. His chances, however, seem remote as he is due to retire in November 2001 and will have only seven months as foreign secretary unless given an extension. The next in line is Chokila Iyer, India's ambassador to Ireland. There are many factors in her favour. She may become India's first lady foreign secretary. That she is a tribal only boosts her chances. Moreover, she retires only in June 2002 and will get at least 15 months as foreign secretary. However, it remains to be seen whether the government will take this big step, seen by many as a "politically correct". The chances of two others from the same batch - secretary (economic relations) S.T. Deware and S.K. Lamba - seem remote as both are due to retire in the middle of next year. The topper of the 1965 IFS batch is Rajnikant Verma, the ambassador to Canada. But he has recently been appointed ambassador to Thailand, indicating that the powers that be may have some reservations about bringing him to headquarters and preparing him for the foreign secretary's post, though he retires only in July 2002. Siddharta Singh, the next in line, is now in Italy as the ambassador and he, too, will have nearly a year left in service after the foreign secretary's post falls vacant. Foreign Service Institute dean Dalip Mehta is considered by many to be a dark horse. Also from the 1965 batch, Mehta is non controversial and retires only in June 2002. The name of Nigam Prakash, ambassador to Argentina, who retires two months after Mehta, is also doing the rounds. R.S. Kalha, secretary (west) and Satish Chandra, currently in the National Security Council, are close to the Prime Minister's principal secretary and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Both have till February 2002 in the service and fancy their chances of making it to the top with the backing of the Prime Minister's Office. Yogesh Mohan Tiwari, of the 1966 batch, currently India's ambassador to Vienna. But there has been a controversy over the manner in which he has been running the mission in Austria. It remains to be seen whether Tiwari, who is to move as ambassador to Cairo, can bring himself back in the race.