A14 COVER STORY India Abroad January 10, 2014
Hardeep Singh Puri, a 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service Officer, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party
He joins a long list of diplomats, including K Natwar Singh, Romesh Bhandari,
Mani Shankar Aiyar and Meira Kumar of
the Congress party and Brajesh Mishra of
the BJP, who have made the transition
from the world of diplomacy to real politics
Puri’s personal friendship with senior
BJP leader Arun Jaitley is well known, so
his entry into the party was not surprising.
Puri dismissed allegations about maintaining close links with the BJP even during his tenure as a prominent diplomat in
India’s foreign service.
“That’s not true at all,” he said. “When I
was the Permanent Representative (tothe
United Nations), I was equally close to peo-
ple from all political parties, so I will not
accept this (charge of being close to the
BJP). Arun Jaitley is somebody I have
grown up with. We studied at the same uni-
versity. I have worked with various other
people. (All India Congress Committee
General Secretary) Digvijaya Singh stayed
at my residence in New York. Ambassadors,
by the very nature of their jobs, deal with all
Within the BJP, Puri has not been a sup-
porter of former external affairs minister
Puri was critical of how the BJP-led
National Democratic Alliance government
handled the Kandahar hijack in
India was forced to release three terrorists in its custody after the Pakistani terror
group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen hijacked an
Air India plane with 176 people on board
and landed it in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Before retiring, Puri served as India’s
Permanent Representative to the United
Nations and did a good job as the chairman of the United Nations Security
Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.
The diplomat, who started his career as a
lecturer at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, has
an impressive network in Delhi and
He has held important diplomatic posts
in Brazil, Japan, Sri Lanka and the United
It will not be surprising if he gets lucrative assignments within the BJP too.
It helps Puri that he knows the BJP’s
prime ministerial candidate Narendra
He met Modi for the first time in 1999 in
Delhi, during an event organized by
When Puri was posted in Geneva in
2003, he spent two days with Modi while
the latter was in Switzerland to collect the
ashes of Shyamji Krishna Verma, a freedom fighter from Gujarat.
Rather than a theorist of geo-politics and
strategic vision, Puri is a man who is deft
in dealing with people in the real world of
diplomacy. His rapport with Susan Rice,
his American counterpart at the UN and
current National Security Advisor, helped
India and the world body in a big way.
Puri is an expert on issues concerning
the World Trade Organization and he will
help the BJP formulate its views on the
On joining the BJP
Let’s be very clear. Intellectually and in
terms of what I think the country needs,
there was no second choice.
Simply put, ten years of the Congress
party’s rule has witnessed an undermining
of institutions, bad economic performance,
corruption and lack of governance.
As far as the Bharatiya Janata Party is
concerned, I have spent a lifetime dealing
with issues related to foreign policy and
As a political party, since its inception,
the BJP has been strongly grounded in
nationalism. They appeal to me on issues of
But for the May 1998 nuclear tests (con-
ducted under the National Democratic
Alliance’s regime), we would have, been
worse off on the security scene.
I am hoping that with a strong BJP government, under the leadership of Narendra
Modi, we will be able to regain our rightful
place in the community of nations.
In New York, there were moments when I
wished we had a stronger government in
Delhi. One of my regrets has been that we
worked so hard and after 17 years we got
into the United Nations Security Council
(as a non-permanent member), but the
government in Delhi was completely preoccupied with domestic issues.
When we were a part of the UNSC in
2011-2012, Delhi was distracted. They were
dealing with corruption cases like the 2G
scam and the Commonwealth Games scam.
To push issues like the expansion of the
UNSC or India’s permanent membership
in the Security Council, it would have been
nice if we had had a stronger government
I am not suggesting that a stronger government in Delhi will ipso facto result in
the Security Council’s expansion, but we
have been distracted.
The transition to politics
When you finish one phase of your life as
a civil servant, it is time to give back, time
to go onto the next phase.
I am not suggesting that this is politics in
the conventional sense. I have only joined
What use the party wants to make of my
experience is entirely up to BJP leaders.
UPA’s foreign policy
I think the present political dispensation
could not stand up forcefully enough in the
last few years.
Why were we pursuing a bilateral meeting at the prime ministerial level when the
Pakistanis had not given up the use of terror as an instrument of their policy?
Why was there so much hype about
Nawaz Sharif taking over (as Pakistan’s
premier) and his keenness to meet the
There was a three-week long incursion in
the Depsang valley near the India-China
border in Ladakh. It was a military standoff. But India’s external affairs minister
(Salman Khurshid) described it as a pimple
on a beautiful skin. Then he goes to
Shanghai and he wants to settle down
Look at how they have handled the Sri
Lankan Tamils issue. We owe it to the Sri
Lankan Tamil minority to use whatever
margin of persuasion we have with the
Mahinda Rajapaksa government to
encourage them to give the Tamil community a good deal. They are Lanka’s own citizens.
The PM was ready to forsake the future of
his government over the India-US civil
nuclear deal, but not a single dollar of commercial contracting has been done since
the agreement has been inked.
You are buying billions of dollars of military equipment from the Americans, yet
that does not encourage the State
Department to withhold clearance for the
physical arrest and strip-search of a senior
Indian diplomat? I think it is shameful.
‘At the UN, there
Retired diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri, who joined the
were moments when
I wished we had a
BJP last week, in a free-wheeling conversation with
I want the AAP
experiment to succeed,
but it cannot succeed
on the basis of wasteful
Hardeep Singh Puri.