Saturday, April 4, 2020

Eyeing the skyline

The Modi government must retain the very foundation of Indian Foreign Service while bringing it at par with contemporary requirements 

Pankaj Sharma
24 Nov 2019 

In the process of changing the entire psyche of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken various silent steps to administer around 90 Indian embassies and 110 consulates spread all over the world. The postings of diplomats to foreign stations will now have a special procedure of scrutiny. The money spent on Indian missions abroad has also increased sizably in the last five years. The capabilities of IFS officers are primarily assessed using a few variables — the analytical capacity which includes their knowledge and techniques, the managerial leadership scope and most importantly, 'political understanding'. A rising political power such as India seeks to protect its widening interests and advance its influence in international affairs. In the past five years, we have witnessed Prime Minister Modi's emergence as a strong individual brand on the world stage but experts of global diplomacy feel that India as a country has not gained proportionately. Also Read - A ray of light ...Hope! The total pool of diplomatic officers in Indian Missions and Posts abroad and at Headquarters is around 2,750. The sanctioned strength of IFS officers at the moment is little more than 900 but the effective strength is around 775 which is a shortage of more than a hundred officers. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is working on a plan to fill these vacancies through lateral entries from other departments as the intake into the IFS in recent years has averaged between only 30-35 persons annually. Also Read - Pressing priority The data of the expenditure on MEA will tell you that it has decreased by a few decimal points in percentage terms in comparison to the total expenditure of the Government of India. But in fact, MEA's budget has increased by around 3,000 crore rupees in the past five years. When Modi took over in 2014, total annual expenses of MEA were less than Rs 12,000 crore. Now expenses on MEA have crossed the figure of Rs 15,000 crore. MEA had made a demand for Rs 21,000 crore for the current financial year but the Ministry of Finance did not approve it. The Modi government has increased the budget of MEA's 'entertainment' also. This head in the MEA's accounts caters to the expenditure incurred on extending hospitality to foreign dignitaries including VVIP visitors. It has been increased to around 71 crore rupees for the current year. In 2014-15, only Rs 38.49 crore was spent under 'entertainment' head. In 2015-16, this expenditure was 38.64 crore. In 2016-17 also, the amount did not cross the figure of Rs 50.34 crore. PM Modi's new initiatives have also fattened the bucket of Scheme and Non-Scheme expenditure of MEA. Scheme expenditure is now to the tune of 5,985 crore rupees. Bhutan got the maximum benefit from this in the form of a grant of Rs 1,813.50 crore. An additional aid of Rs 836.50 crore to Bhutan was also given for its loans. Nepal was given Rs 650 crore, Myanmar Rs 280 crore, Afghanistan Rs 380 crore, Bangladesh Rs 175 crore, Sri Lanka Rs 150 crore, Maldives Rs 125 crore, African countries Rs 200 crore and other developing countries Rs 115 crore as an aid. Under Non-Scheme expenditure, more than Rs 2,700 crore is being spent on Indian embassies and missions abroad. Rs 50 crore on the foreign visits of high-level delegations, Rs 40.89 crore on 'special programs', Rs 46.51 crore on 'special activities of missions', a huge sum of Rs 2400 crore on 'special diplomatic expenditure' and Rs 141 crore on the maintenance of Air India aircraft for VVIPs. There are various other expense accounts which make total Non-Scheme expenses touch a figure of Rs 9,026 crore for this year. A large sum of money that is around Rs 2,000 crore is also being spent on 'International Cooperation'. Despite the fact that the rating of India's diplomatic corps is pathetic in comparison to the countries such as USA, China, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Germany, Japan, Singapore and even Republic of Korea, MEA has constantly put the blame for this on its inadequate strength. The argument is that India has only 2,700 diplomats as against 4,500 of China, 5,700 of Japan and 20,000 of the USA. MEA's plea is that even very small countries have many more diplomats than India has. For instance, the Republic of Korea has 1,250, Singapore 800, New Zealand 900, Brazil 2,000 and Italy has 900 diplomats. These figures could be technically true. But then, what do you mean by a diplomat? The holder of a diplomatic passport or a trained foreign services officer? In the last five years, 160 IFS officers have joined the government and it would be interesting to know about the locations and postings of their grooming years. Guiding the members of Indian bureaucracy in domestic as well as foreign areas is the highest priority for the Modi government. Prime Minister Modi is keen to establish India's Missions to all those countries where there are no existing resident Missions. For this, Central African Republics are on the priority in MEA's plan. India will soon have official Missions in countries such as Georgia, El Bissau, Estonia, Gabon, Gambia, Latvia, Marshall Islands, Liberia, Monaco, Nicaragua, Montenegro, Paraguay, Moldova, Rwanda, Saint Kitts, Sierra Leone, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Macedonia, Swaziland, Togo and Uruguay. Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde and Cameroon. MEA under the Modi government has also been preparing a plan to review the appointments of around 2,500 'local employees' who are working in more than 180 Missions and Posts. The ministry in consultation with all its Missions and Posts abroad undertook a comprehensive exercise to assess the requirement for commercial, cultural and consular Wings in Missions/Posts and a proposal for the creation of 535 posts in around 130 Missions/Posts abroad has already been prepared. The proposal is under active consideration. The foundation of Indian Foreign Service is based on the principle that when one works as a diplomat, one does not look Right, Left or Centre. Whatever your personal moral compass or political views, you work for India and only for India. There is a cultural change underway in the Foreign Service. Foreign policy is what you do and diplomacy is how you do it. The two get mixed up when a diplomat is advising on policy or a member of the government engaged in policy decision takes over a diplomatic operation. The task of a government is to decide in the interest of the nation and not in the interest of an individual or ruling party. The task of a diplomat at any level is to try to make a well-meaning decision work. Let us hope that the very foundation of Indian Foreign Service will remain intact in the times to come.

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