In a sudden announcement, US Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell Monday said she is resigning and will retire in May – when a new government in India is set to take over.
She made the announcement at a US Mission Town Hall meeting. Powell took over in April 2012 and has still a year to go to complete a three-year term.
Powell, 67, a career diplomat, said she has submitted her resignation to President Barack Obama “and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May”, said a US embassy press statement.
Her resignation comes more than a month after her meeting with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar. Powell’s Feb 13 meeting with Modi, viewed as a strong contender for the top job, ended the US’ nine-year-old boycott of the BJP leader over the 2002 Gujarat sectarian riots. The US revoked his visa in 2005.
“She is ending a 37-year career that has included postings as US Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently Director General of the Foreign Service,” said the embassy press statement.
Powell expressed her appreciation for the “professionalism and dedication of the US Mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the US-India bilateral relationship. She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties,” the statement said.
Powell, known as a friend of India, took over as the first female US ambassador to India. She holds the highest rank in the United States Foreign Service, with the title of Career Ambassador.
The resignation also comes amid speculation that the US administration was likely to appoint a new ambassador to India in view of a new government taking over after 10 years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance rule. Opinion polls have been projecting the BJP as the party likely to win over 200 seats, and the Congress faring poorly.
US-India ties have seen some strain lately over the handcuffing and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York last year. The episode had led to a bitter diplomatic stand-off between both countries, which ended with Khobragade being sent back to India and New Delhi in turn getting a US diplomat of the same rank sent back.
Powell has served earlier in India, as consul general in Kolkata, and minister counsellor for political affairs at the embassy here.