Former Foreign Secretary A.P. Venkateswaran was a brilliant, efficient, and popular diplomat of his time. Venkateswaran, or ‘Venkat’, as his peers knew him, has an illustrious diplomatic career, though his inimitable style may have irked some. He also made an incredible number of friends, and left a lasting impression on Indian diplomacy.
He had made headlines when he resigned from his post in January 1987, after he was snubbed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
In December 1986, Venkateswaran had gone to Islamabad, and stated that as Chairman of SAARC, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi would visit different SAARC capitals including Islamabad. However, on January 21, 1987, Gandhi told a Pakistani journalist that he had no plans to visit Islamabad in near future. When the journalist referred to Venkateswaran’s earlier statement, Rajiv Gandhi said:
“You will be talking to a new foreign secretary soon.”
Venkateswaran was present at the press conference and taking notes when this abrupt announcement was made. This stunned Venkateswaran’s supporters. On the same day he resigned from his post and took premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service. However, in a rare display of solidarity, the entire foreign service, stood like a rock behind him.
Experts called the sequence of events as quite dramatic and as Rajiv’s most insensitive blunder. Venkateswaran’s public dismissal and humiliation, was unprecedented in the history of the Indian Foreign Service. In his comments, Venkateswaran called his resignation as spontaneous as he always believed that life without honour is no living at all. It was also known that Venkat’s style of functioning made Rajiv Gandhi quite uncomfortable and he had weighed the pros and cons of appointing him foreign secretary for long. Many believe that the incident was the beginning of the end of the popularity of Rajiv Gandhi.