Mumbai police commissioner Ahmad Javed will be the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia, on course to be the first non-IFS officer to be picked for such a post since the Narendra Modi government came to power.
Javed, who was appointed Mumbai's top cop in September when the Sheena Bora murder case was hogging the headlines, will retire from the Indian Police Service early next year. But he may be asked to take charge in Riyadh a month earlier, if a proposed trip by Prime Minister Modi to Saudi Arabia in January works out.
Modi was earlier expected to visit Saudi Arabia in December. But a packed diplomatic schedule and differences with Riyadh over two instances of abuse of household helps involving Saudi nationals have strained New Delhi's public projection of the bilateral relationship.
India has not had an ambassador in Riyadh for several months now, since Hamid Ali Rao retired earlier this year.
Saudi Arabia is India's largest supplier of crude, home to 3 million Indian nationals and it remains one of the most influential strategic players in West Asia - factors that make the ambassador's post a critical one.
India has traditionally appointed Muslims as envoys to Saudi Arabia as non-Muslims are forbidden from entering Mecca, where many Indians travel each year for the Haj pilgrimage. Some of the highly rated diplomats - such as Vice-President Hamid Ansari and former ambassador Talmiz Ahmed - have served in Riyadh.
Over the past year, the government mulled multiple choices for ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Syed Akbaruddin, the former spokesperson who is now headed to New York as permanent representative to the UN, was an option, as was Javed Ashraf, an IFS officer who has served in the Prime Minister's Office under both Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
At least one political appointee who is also a former journalist was also considered before the police officer was picked.
Javed is the second Mumbai police commissioner to serve as an Indian ambassador - former top cop Julio Ribeiro served as ambassador in Romania from 1989 to 1993.
Javed has well-wishers in the Maharashtra BJP as well as the Congress. He was the choice for the top police job when Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan was chief minister.
"Chavan had fought tooth and nail with Sharad Pawar, who pushed for Javed's junior and his favourite Rakesh Maria for the post. The Congress top leadership did not want a rift with the NCP (which eventually parted ways with the ally). So Chavan saheb had to eat humble pie and Maria pipped Javed to the post," said a Maharashtra Congress leader.
Not only was Javed, who had served as Navi Mumbai police commissioner earlier, superseded by Maria, he was given a picayune posting as director-general, home guards.
A regular in newspaper pages featuring celebrity events and considered a darling of Mumbai high society, Javed had then gone into a long sulk, according to sources.
Javed had the last laugh when the BJP-led government in the state replaced Maria and appointed him as Mumbai police commissioner amid suggestions that Maria was taking too much personal interest in the case.
Javed was also friends with the Mukerjeas, accused in the Sheena Bora murder case, and investigations have been handed over to the CBI.
According to police sources, Javed is chief minister Devendra Fadnavis's favourite now.
Political sources in Mumbai said that in October, the state government proposed Javed's name to the external affairs ministry for consideration for the post of ambassador to Saudi Arabia.