ON SUNDAY the October 9, Happy-IFS-Day messages were in circulation in social media sites, as many in Twitter and Facebook congratulated 600 odd Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers. “Warm wishes to my colleagues on the occasion of IFS day. May Indian Foreign Service go from strength to strength in service of the country” — was the message of India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. The day — October 9 is commemorated as Indian Foreign Service Day, as it was the day in 1946 the then government had approved…the creation of a separate foreign service. “Seven decades in service of @IndianDiplomacy. It was on this day in 1946 that the #IndianForeignService was created #IFS #IFSDay”, spokesperson of ministry of external affairs Vikas Swarup tweeted. India’s ambassador to France Dr Mohan Kumar wrote: “Happy Indian Foreign Service day. Very proud to be an Indian diplomat and represent a great country!!” Another senior IFS officer Dr Sumit Seth posted the photo of CB Muthamma, the first woman to join the Indian Foreign Service way back in 1949.
Many officers of other services (including IAS) and even common men and women posted Happy IFS messages in social media. “Happy Indian Foreign Service day Sir. May Lord Shiva bless you all Indian diplomats posted in different countries of the world”, one person tweeted. Another said: “Aapka Din Sùndar Madhur Swatcch Mangalmay khushhal Shantimay Aur Saraswatimay Ho. Wishing you all a happy Indian foreign service day.”
As the history goes, the Board of Directors of the East India Company in 1783 passed a resolution to create a department in helping the then administration in conducting what it called "secret and political business”. Later, it was developed into Indian Foreign Department. In 1843, the government secretariat was divided into four departments – foreign, home, finance and military. The foreign department which is the British version of today’s IFS dealt with both external and internal diplomatic relations. So, in a way the diplomats of those days also performed the today’s duties of Indian Information Service officers. Later, external affairs were delinked from those handling internal “political” assignments. After India's Independence, a new department called the ministry of external affairs and commonwealth relations was created and the first batch of officers was recruited in 1948 under the combined civil services examination system.
An IFS officer begins one's career in a foreign nation as a third secretary before getting promoted to second secretary and then to first secretary, counsellor, minister and ambassador or high commissioner. The top job of an IFS officer is foreign secretary.
BoI here reproduces one of its earlier posts dated July 31, 2014 about former IFS officer and ex-minister of external affairs K Natwar Singh’s entry into Indian Foreign Service back in 1953 on a Rs 350 per month salary.
1. After appearing for the written part of the civil services examinations in October 1952, Singh went to UK. He also had a holiday in Holland, Belgium and France. When he returned to India, a telegram from the UPSC was waiting for him. His interview at UPSC’s Dholpur House was fixed for January 9, 1953.
2. The interview board was presided over by the then ICS officer RN Banerji. The other members included the then MEA joint secretary BHFB Tyabji and IPS officer PL Mehta.
3. Singh gave only two options of preference: IFS and IAS. He was asked in the interview why he gave only two choices.
4. Upon selected as an IFS, he 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.
5. 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.
6. Singh and his fellow probationers spent five months in Metcalfe House whereas IAS probationers stayed there for a year.
7. 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.
8. In August 1953, Singh along with his other IAS and IFS probationers went to Kashmir on an exposure tour. They met the then chief minister Sheikh Abdullah.
9. 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.
10. The salary of the 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.