When I read Hindu newspaper excerpts of Karan Thapar’s interview with the former foreign secretary and (former?) special envoy Shyam Saran, I thought Thapar’s eagle’s eye spotted the wrong guy on the IIC lawns. The secretary dealing with Iran wasn’t Saran. It was Rajiv Sikri. It appears Saran doesn’t even seem to know that MEA’s own recommendation to the PMO was exactly the opposite of what India eventually did at the IAEA when it voted against Iran - namely, India should not vote against Iran. Maybe Thapar should interview Sikri? But then Sikri is living in quiet retirement and he has no post-retirement obligations to anyone on Raisina Hill and he may not even oblige.
Nonetheless, I found it interesting that Saran has at long last “declassified” the GOI brief on Iran - by saying India voted against Iran at the IAEA because Iran’s nuclear programme was “linked” to Pakistan and North Korea’s. This has never been spelt out in the Indian pronouncements. Maybe, Tehran should take note that all that NSA told Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
recently was sheer baloney?
But Saran overlooks an important point. IAEA never ever said that Iran has a nuclear weapon programme. The first IAEA vote wasn’t even about Iran’s nuclear weapon programme. It was about referring the file to the UN SC. So, what was India’s problem? Saran probably thinks the best thing to do is to “link” an issue, any issue under the sun, with Pakistan (or China) because then a whole lot of Indian emotions creep into the subject. Smart thinking.
Substantively, I found two observations by Saran quite intriguing. Saran has no record of losing his cool (leave alone bad-mouthing) when it comes to a difference of opinion with his peer group - and, most certainly, never with his superiors. So, his public censuring of former US ambassador David Mulford seems out of place. Probably he took PMO approval to revert to the Vietnam-war era style of megaphone diplomacy?
Mulford only underscored to the Indian media the authenticity and accuracy of his embassy’s reporting. From WikiLeaks, it certainly appears Mulford and his embassy did a great job and after a fruitful term in Delhi during which he wrapped up a lot of things in terms of US’ global strategies, he walked away. Why take umbrage at him now if our people behaved like cringing, shameless imbeciles in front of American diplomats? The heart of the matter is that WikiLeaks bring out that the work ethic that the British handed down to our native hands when they vacated India’s diplomatic service in 1947 no more exists and we have happily slided back to the times of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Bizarre things are happening. One WikiLeaks cable says a senior officer (who is still in the service) claimed the then foreign secretary (presumably Saran) having hand-picked him for a crucial assignment with the expectation that he could be trusted to spy on his ambassador in the Mission and report back to Hqs. This officer then solicits American help to let him know how if they have any complaints (policy differences) regarding his ambassador so that he can get corrective measures taken in Delhi (presumably by Saran)!
All this began happening when work ethic began breaking down. I remember once upon a time an incumbent foreign secretary booked in advance his railway ticket to go and settle down in his home in Madras by the GT Express in anticipation of his retirement, spurning post-retirement job offers from the political leadership. That sort of impeccable integrity has given way to ‘durbar’ culture and the WikiLeaks cables are the manifestation of the decay that set in.
Second, how can Saran be so categorical about the circumstances of Mani Shankar Aiyar’s shift from the petroleum ministry - unless, of course, Saran holds pillow talk with Prime MInister Manmohan Singh about his cabinet colleagues, which I doubt? There is a limit to presumptuousness about other people’s IQ although they didn’t pass a UPSC civil service exam or two.