Generally India has awarded the highest profile ambassadorships to political figures or other prominent individuals. In recent years this trend has changed. The outgoing ambassador, Mrs. Meera Shankar, started her career as an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer in July 1973. Her term is over next month.
She will be succeeded by Mrs. Nirupama Rao, a familiar figure to those who watch India’s Ministry of External Affairs (or foreign ministry in the South Block). Rao was Shankar’s batchmate in the IFS and is currently India’s Foreign Secretary (the senior most bureaucrat in the ministry, not to be confused with the Foreign Minister, Dr. SM Krishna).
In her career, Rao has served as , Minister of Press Affairs in Washington, Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, stints in the Ministry of External Affairs as Joint Secretary (East Asia) and was due for retirement later this year.
What this means:
Rao clearly has a current grasp of the main concerns between the USA and India. She and Minister Krishna have worked closely together on US-India issues over the last two years which have included visits to Delhi by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by President Obama. She won’t need time to ramp up on her side at all, other than to become familiar with some of the players in Washington upon her arrival. Clearly the Manmohan Singh government wants a smooth transition between Shankar and Rao and did not want to risk making a political appointment which could introduce variability in policy and process.