The sudden appointment has echoes of the sudden replacement of India’s then foreign secretary A.P. Venkateswaran by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in January 1987.
The appointments committee of the Cabinet, in a decision taken Wednesday, decided to “curtail the tenure” of the incumbent Sujatha Singh, “with immediate effect”.
The committee, in a note put up on the department of personnel and training, also said that Jaishankar, an Indian Foreign Service officer of 1977 batch, has been appointed the new foreign secretary for a period of two years.
Sujatha Singh had assumed office in August 2013 and was due to retire in August this year.
The surprise announcement comes a day after US President Barack Obama left the country after a three-day visit during which, India and the US saw a breakthrough announcement on the stalled civil nuclear deal.
Obama was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the first US president to grace the occasion.
Jaishankar was one of the key officials who negotiated the nuclear deal with the US as joint secretary (Americas) from 2004 to 2007 in the ministry of external affairs.
He was previously the envoy to China before moving as envoy to the US.
His name had been doing the rounds for some time as a candidate likely to be made the new foreign secretary.
Jaishakar hails from an illustrious family of civil servants and is the son of Indian foreign policy doyen K. Subhramanyam.
In 2013, his name was reportedly being considered for foreign secretary, but Singh was chosen instead by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Venkateswaran was dismissed as foreign secretary at a nationally televised media conference by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in January 1987. He resigned within hours, before Gandhi had a chance to put his pronouncement on paper.