|Top IFS officer Jaishankar with external affairs minister|
high commission marked the Indian Foreign Service Day by planting a sapling in memory of first high Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Sri Prakasa, the officer who was born and brought up in Varanasi and graduated from the Cambridge University. Sri Prakasa later served as Governor of Assam, then Madras and then Bombay.
In fact, the origin of the Indian Foreign Service is dated back to 1783 when it was decided to create a separate foreign department. And it was in 1843, Governor-General Ellenborough carried out administrative reforms under which the secretariat of the government was organized under four departments – foreign, home, finance and military, according to the MEA’s official website. Each of those four departments was headed by a secretary level officer. The foreign department secretary’s work was described as conducting all correspondence “belonging to the external and internal diplomatic relations of the government”.
And on October 9, 1946, the cabinet approved the creation of a service called the Indian Foreign Service for India’s diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas.
An IFS officer joins the service as third secretary and then gets promoted to second secretary. Then the officer moves up in the hierarchy -- first secretary, counsellor, minister and ambassador/high commissioner/permanent representative. At the MEA, the officers get the same designations as their IAS counterparts – joint secretary, additional secretary and secretary. The topmost IFS post is foreign secretary who is given a fixed tenure of 2 years.
Finally, BoI here reproduces five interesting facets of former IFS-turned politician K Natwar Singh to give an idea of how the life of an IFS officer was.
a) Upon selected as an IFS, Natwar Singh was asked to report at Metcalfe House on April 14, 1953 for probation. Those were pre-LBSNAA days, and unlike today when the first sessions of probation are organized in the Mussorie campus, the training then was held in Delhi’s Metcalfe House.
b) Singh and six other IFS officers, all aged between 21 and 24, were invited to South Block by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. They had a free and frank interaction with Pandit Nehru. Singh was asked a question on China as a potential danger.
c) One day, Rashtrapati Bhavan sent a car to the Metcalfe House for bringing IFS probationers for a meeting with the then President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad. Remember, all those officers were the most eligible bachelors too. One of Singh’s batch-mates finally married the President’s grand-daughter.
d) In September 1953, the IFS officers had to sail for London, as part of their training. Singh later wrote that he was horribly seasick. Singh was first trained in Cambridge. Then, he spent six weeks in London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
e) The salary of the IFS probationers then was Rs 350 per month plus an allowance of Rs 90. Singh later wrote in an article in The Hindu that they “were hard put to spend it”. After all, petrol used to cost 12 annas a gallon then, and in Connaught Place there were limited choice of restaurants -- Alps, Kwality and Volga.