Celebrated novelist Vikas Swarup, author of bestseller debut novel “Q&A” (on which Slumdog Millionaire was based) and career diplomat, has been appointed as the new official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. He will take over on 18 April. The appointment order was issued late evening on 25 March.
Akbaruddin is due to be promoted as additional secretary very soon. Keeping that in view, he has been appointed as “Chief Coordinator” of the India-Africa Forum Summit. There will be a “Coordinator” as well and a joint secretary will fill that slot.
The India-Africa Summit is scheduled to be hosted by New Delhi on 29 October. After this event, Akbaruddin is likely to given a high-profile ambassadorial assignment. He may well be India’s next High Commissioner in London, a post currently held by former foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai who completes his stint at the end of the year.
Akbaruddin is a 1985 batch Indian Foreign Service officer who is considered an expert on West Asia issues in India, and has served in various capacities in that region including being consul general at Jeddah from 2000 to 2004. He was the director at Foreign Secretary’s Office of the Ministry from 2004 to 2005. He has rich experience in nuclear-related issues and was on deputation at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for four years.
Better known as Akbar, he returned to India in 2011. On 7 December 2011 he was named as the new spokesperson of the MEA. He had a month-long overlapping stint with the then Joint Secretary of the External Publicity Division of the MEA, and official spokesperson, Vishnu Prakash. Akbaruddin formally took over as the new JS (XP) on 7 January 2012.
Swarup, who is a 1986 batch IFS officer, was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh to a family of lawyers. He did his schooling at Boys’ High School & College, Allahabad and pursued further studies at Allahabad University in Psychology, History and Philosophy.
Swarup is best known as the author of “Q&A”, a debut novel that was a runaway success and an international bestseller that was translated into 43 languages. It was subsequently made into the Hollywood film “Slumdog Millionnaire”. The film was released in January 2009 and won eight of the ten Oscars it was nominated for, the largest number of Oscars won by any film since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which won 11 Oscars in 2004.
Swarup’s subsequent novels “Six Suspects” and “The Accidental Apprentice” also proved to be runaway hits.
Swarup has been working in the MEA headquarters in New Delhi as Joint Secretary (UN-Political) since September 2013. His previous postings include stints in Ankara, Washington DC, Addis Ababa, London and Pretoria and as Consul General in Osaka-Kobe, Japan.
The post of MEA spokesperson is a hot seat and a live wire. Incidentally, MEA is the only ministry that has a full-fledged spokesperson who holds regular briefings.
This post assumes even more importance as Prime Minister Narendra Modi neither has a spokesperson nor a media advisor. Of late, JS (XP) has invariably been informally functioning as an extension of the PMO spokesperson.
Akbaruddin leaves very large boots for Vikas Swarup to fill, and has been the MEA’s best known and most efficient spokesperson yet.