India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna Quits
New Delhi: India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna resigned Friday just ahead of what is expected to be a substantial cabinet reshuffle Sunday, paving the way for a new and perhaps younger foreign minister at a challenging time for the nation’s foreign policy and international relations.
Krishna, 80, submitted his papers to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and was expected to be drafted for party work ahead of crucial elections in his native state of Karnatka that are due in May 2013 but could be advanced. Krishna was twice the Karnataka chief minister.
Late at night an official of the Prime Minister’s Office said Manmohan Singh had accepted the resignation and would forward it to President Pranab Mukherjee.
The cabinet reshuffle is expected around 10 a.m. Sunday before Manmohan Singh leaves for Himachal Pradesh to address a poll rally.
The resignation comes at a time when Krishna, along with two former chief ministers, faces a probe by the Karnataka Lokayukta for alleged irregularities in the Bangalore-Mysore expressway project.
Krishna’s resignation took the foreign office by surprise as it came barely days before India hosts an important ministerial meeting of the 19-member Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). Krishna was expected to hold bilateral talks with foreign ministers from several countries ranging from Iran and Mauritius on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting.
Krishna was appointed India’s foreign minister after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) returned to power in May 2009.
Krishna’s resignation has fuelled speculation about his likely successor. Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, also a former minister of state for external affairs, is widely considered the front-runner for the prized post.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath and and Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP from Kerala and a former minister of state for external affairs, are among the other names doing the rounds for this key position.
During his three-and-a-half-year tenure, Krishna was the public face of India on the world stage at a time when India’s global profile was rising despite the economic downturn. His tenure saw the return of India to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member in 2010 after a gap of nearly two decades.
Belying his age, Krishna travelled extensively around the world, visiting over 50 world capitals to advance India’s geopolitical interests and is understood to have forged a personal rapport with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
His last major trip before his resignation was to New York in the last week of September where he represented India at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and engaged in intense diplomacy, both bilateral and multilateral, on its sidelines.
Although many critics have decried his lack of grounding in finer nuances of India’s foreign policy and his habit of reading out from prepared texts even while responding to questions at interactions with the media, Krishna, an avid tennis buff known for his elegant sartorial taste, brought in a politician’s touch to his job.
This was evident in two key initiatives during his tenure. First, under his leadership, the passport office, the public face of India’s external affairs ministry, saw radical changes, with the introduction of Passport Seva Kendras that streamlined the delivery of travel documents.
Second, he pioneered what is called the Heads of Mission Meetings with the mantra of “Commerce, Connectivity, Consular and Community” in different regions where he focused on creating people-centric missions that promptly addressed the needs of overseas Indians.
However, despite these initiatives, his performance was seen by many as average and lacklustre. Critics point out his reading out the speech prepared for the Portuguese foreign minister during a meeting at the United Nations on Feb 14, 2011 was one of the much-publicized gaffes that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to seize on and demand his resignation.
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