|CHALLENGING TIME: Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai|
costly for the growth of Indian career diplomats in a fast-changing 21st century world. Influenced by such misplaced thoughts and often directed by the IAS lobby, India’s policy-makers have always failed to acknowledge the harsh reality that IFS is still a skeleton cadre in comparison with China’s huge brigade of 6,000 and US’ 12,000 foreign service officers. New Delhi in-principle has agreed to double its current IFS cadre of 800, but the files have moved rather slowly. It’s however not just the number that’s a hiccup for Indian career diplomats.
First, let’s examine in what context Leader of Opposition Jaitley made his observation in Parliament. This is what he said: “Whether it is Islamabad, Male or Rome, I think we seriously need to discuss our foreign policy and where it is leading us because if Indian can be kicked around in this manner internationally then there is something seriously wrong with the manner in which external affairs is run”. Of late, India’s external affairs has run into turbulence as its neighbours like Sri Lanka and Maldives have humiliated New Delhi, and Italy, hitherto a friendly country, has behaved like an enemy nation. So, why can’t diplomats be blamed for such an unwanted situation?
Here are a few counter-points. It’s not something new that India has goofed up its subcontinent policies. In recent times, India’s relations with Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar have rather improved though Maldives is going out of its clout. In fact, Bhutan is the only neighbour with whom India has retained quality friendship for decades now.
Secondly, there has been an over-emphasis on economic diplomacy during the last few years, forcing career diplomats to shift focus and even compromise on core philosophy of diplomacy.
Also, the over-zealous commerce ministry’s move to create more and more economic posts, mainly for IAS, has sent the career diplomats into a tizzy. Already, there are 65 economic missions around the world, and files for creating more such non-IFS posts are on circulation. Won’t the character of India’s diplomacy change if the number of IFS officers remains stagnant whereas IAS-led foreign economic brigade gets strengthened?
And even if the government decides to create more IFS posts, the question will arise how those will actually be filled up? Will UPSC take any special exam to recruit a large number of foreign service officers at one go? Or will the government bend its rules and recruit mid-career officers at lateral level? There are more questions than answers now.