US envoy Taranjit Singh Sandhu set to wrap up stint at month-end | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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US envoy Taranjit Singh Sandhu set to wrap up stint at month-end

By, Washington
Jan 12, 2024 12:22 AM IST

India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, will wrap up his term in office in Washington DC at the end of January and retire from government service after a 35-year long career that was marked by four postings in America, people familiar with the development said.

India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, will wrap up his term in office in Washington DC at the end of January and retire from government service after a 35-year long career that was marked by four postings in America, people familiar with the development said.

US envoy Taranjit Singh Sandhu set to wrap up stint at month-end
US envoy Taranjit Singh Sandhu set to wrap up stint at month-end

Sandhu, a 1988-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, served as the ambassador in DC since early 2020 and navigated a turbulent but also a transformative period in the relationship under two different administrations — led by Donald Trump and then Joe Biden — giving the relationship a truly bipartisan flavour.

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He also served as deputy chief of mission between 2013 and 2016, when he worked under external affairs minister S Jaishankar who was then serving as the ambassador to DC. Sandhu’s first posting to US was as a young political officer handling the US Congress in the wake of the nuclear tests in 1998, giving him a deep grounding in American politics which helped him in subsequent stints. He has also served stint in India’s permanent mission to the UN in New York.

Sandhu was set to retire last January but the government gave him a one-year extension given the importance of the relationship with US, and his interactions with key interlocutors and grasp over politics in Washington. The past year was particularly critical for the relationship with the launch of the initiative on critical and emerging technologies (iCET) and one of the most successful state visits by an Indian PM to Washington, where Biden hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a grand welcome reception on the lawns of the White House and a state dinner besides deepening cooperation in multiple strategic domains. The visit saw both sides agree on the GE jet engine deal, major investments in the semiconductor space, the agreement on Predator drones, and a decision to deepen collaboration across multiple global theatres. During the Indian presidency of G20, Sandhu also played a role in ensuring that the US remained broadly supportive of New Delhi’s quest for a consensus-based declaration.

Sandhu’s terms in the US were also marked by challenges. If, in his first stint, he had to explain India’s decision to undertake nuclear tests to a hostile Congress, in his second term, he was in DC during the Devyani Khobragade incident. As ambassador, Sandhu has had to deal with criticism in the American public sphere on questions regarding India’s democratic trajectory, work together with the US through Covid-19, navigate differences with the administration on Russia at the outset of the war in Ukraine (where Sandhu’s experience of helping set up the Indian embassy in Kyiv in the early 1990s helped), and more recently, ensure that allegations implicating a government of India official in an assassination plot on American soil didn’t affect the broader relationship.

Terming Sandhu as a “fantastic” ambassador, Ashley J Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a distinguished strategic analyst, said that unlike his predecessors, Sandhu assumed his position at a time when American doubts about Indian trajectory and policies were increasing. “By his sheer geniality and his patient willingness to engage all — in the administration, on the Hill and in civil society through the US — he compelled his interlocutors to consider India’s perspectives more thoughtfully than they may have done otherwise. No one could have done this better than Taranjit did — he changed minds by tugging at the heart”, Tellis said.

Sandhu’s wife, Reenat Sandhu, is India’s ambassador to the Netherlands. He also comes from a family with a rich legacy in Punjab, where his grandfather, Teja Singh Samundri, was one of the early leaders of the Gurudwara reform movement and is the only non-guru in whose memory there is a building in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar and his father, Bishan Singh Samundri, was the first Vice-Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.

Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and a long time observer and participant in the deepening of relationship, said Sandhu had been “one of the most effective Indian ambassadors” to the US. “He has been able to convey and coordinate US-India strategic partnership in a very positive manner. He also successfully executed the state visit of the PM to the US in June last year. His network on the Hill, with the executive branch, and with the State Department has been effective and efficient. We will sorely miss him,” Aghi said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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