Sujatha Singh, who took over as India’s new foreign secretary on Thursday, said strengthening relations with India’s neighbours will remain her priority. Her maiden foreign visit after taking over, Singh said, will be to Bhutan and termed the “technical lapse” that led to India stopping fuel subsidies to Bhutan as “unfortunate”.
Singh said New Delhi as closely working with the new government in Thimphu to continue to consolidate the privileged partnership that the two neighbors have with each other. On whether disruption in subsidy to Bhutan influenced the recent elections in that country, Singh said that she can “confirm” to the media “that as of today the unfortunate technical lapse that has led to this kind of comment and debate is now a thing of the past”. India has restored the fuel subsidy to Bhutan.
The new foreign secretary, who is of the 1976 batch of the Indian Foreign Service, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay to visit India and she will be visiting Thimphu shortly to consult with the Bhutanese side to work towards an early visit of PM Tobgay to India.
Singh, who until recently was India’s envoy to Germany and will serve a two year term until July 2015, said South Block’s “immediate priorities would be in our immediate neighborhood, that’s where our immediate interests lie. And that is where our most intense interactions are”.
She said New Delhi will continue to strengthen relations with its strategic partners. India has strategic partnerships with the US, Russia, Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, among others. “So my immediate priority would be to optimize the resources that we already have and to work with all the multiple stake holders in India’s foreign policy,” said she.
The new foreign secretary said New Delhi will continue its “resumed dialogue” with the new government in Islamabad if the environment remained free of violence and terror. “There is a new government in Pakistan now. We will be picking up the threads from where we left off with the old government,” said she. The foreign secretary said the issue of Captain Saurabh Kalia has been repeatedly taken up with Pakistan. About the TV footage of Captain Kalia, Singh said if there were “new facts that have come to light, we will assess it and then we will decide how to proceed further in taking this up”.
StratPost had reported in mid-June that Singh was to be the next foreign secretary of India, at a time when many media outlets had reported that India’s envoy to Beijing S. Jaishankar would pip her to the post.
Singh’s previous assignments included Ambassador of India to Germany in 2012-13 and India’s High Commissioner to Australia from 2007 to 2012. She started her overseas assignments as second secretary in the Embassy of India, Bonn (1978-82), first secretary, High Commission of India, Accra (1985-89), Counsellor, Embassy of India, Paris (1989-92), Deputy Chief of Mission and Deputy Permanent Representative to ESCAP at Embassy of India, Bangkok (1997-2000) and Consul General, Milan (2000-04).
Singh has served over a third of her career at Headquarters. She was Under Secretary looking after Nepal (1982-85), Director, Economic Co-ordination Unit (1992-95), attended the National Defence College at New Delhi (1995) and Joint Secretary at the Foreign Service Institute, New Delhi (1996-97). Subsequently she was Joint Secretary and then Additional Secretary responsible for West Europe and the EU New Delhi (2004-07).
Singh did her graduation in Economics in 1973 from Lady Shri Ram College, and her masters in Economics in 1975 from the Delhi School of Economics. She is married to Sanjay Singh, who retired from the IFS earlier this year. They have two daughters.