Veteran diplomat Vijay Keshav Gokhale, who played a major role in resolving the military stand-off with China at Doklam last summer, on Monday assumed charge as the new Foreign Secretary for a two-year term.
He replaces S Jaishankar, a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who retired yesterday after completing a term of three-years, including one extended year.
”An early morning start! Shri Vijay Gokhale, an Indian Foreign Service Officer of the 1981 batch, took over as Foreign Secretary of India today morning,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
Gokhale was hitherto Secretary (Economic Relations) in the External Affairs Ministry. Prior to this, he was India’s Ambassador to China from January 2016 to October 2017. It was during his stint in Beijing that India and China came close to a military confrontation at Doklam when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were prevented by Indian troops from violating the status quo at the tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan.
This led to a more than 70-day face-off between India and Chinese troops which came to an end after thorny diplomatic negotiations between the two countries.
Gokhale’s role as India’s main negotiator during the crisis came in for much appreciation even by PM Modi. He was India’s Ambassador to Germany from October 2013 to January 2016 and High Commissioner to Malaysia from January 2010 to October 2013. His previous diplomatic assignments include postings in Hong Kong, Hanoi, Beijing and New York. He has also served as Deputy Secretary (Finance), Director (China & East Asia) and Joint Secretary (East Asia) during his stints at the MEA.
Unlike Jaishanakar, Gokhale has always stayed away from the media glare. His colleagues say he quietly does his job and prefers to go into the background.
As new Foreign Secretary, Gokhale has his task cut out. He will have to navigate the country’s foreign policy at a time when India’s relations with both its main adversaries China and Pakistan are at an all-time low.
The country’s ties with its other neighbours and key world powers like the US and Russia and the situation in Afghanistan will also be on his priority list. The first and foremost task before him would be to ensure the success of PM Modi’s visit to Palestine in the second week of February.