Former foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was the surprise addition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on Thursday, taking oath ahead of several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who held key posts in the previous government.
Jaishankar, the son of one of India’s foremost strategic thinkers, K Subrahmanyam, had joined the Tata Group as president of global corporate affairs after his stint as the foreign secretary from January 2015 to January 2018.
He is considered to be very close to the prime minister and was part of a troika with Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval that played a major role in shaping foreign policy in the early years of the last NDA government.
The government announced S. Jaishankar, a former foreign secretary, would take over the portfolio from Sushma Swaraj, the ruling party’s veteran leader, who has had health issues.
The handing of the ministry to the veteran diplomat, who has been ambassador to both the United States and China, could be Modi’s most astute move as he seeks to pursue a stronger U.S. relationship and to intensify efforts to strengthen Chinese ties.
Jaishankar was a key negotiator during a tense border dispute with China in 2017, the most serious and prolonged standoff in decades along the disputed Himalayan frontier.
“He is a trusted aide to the prime minister,” said a source with close knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He could also prove to be a calming influence in efforts to repair India’s problematic relationship with Pakistan that almost spiralled out of control this year, a second source with close knowledge of the situation said.
“He has a good feel for the relationship. He visited Pakistan in the Modi regime, and will be a positive force in managing this equation,” the second source said.
Jaishankar worked on a landmark 2008 deal with the United States that ended a three-decade ban on U.S. nuclear trade with India. He later took up the post of ambassador in Washington.
“It’s a perfect choice for the job, and somebody with hands-on experience who can assist the prime minister in pursuing his initiatives,” said Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary.