A tribute to the ‘frontline officers’ as Indian Foreign Service marks a Platinum
Auckland, October 9, 2021
The following article is a tribute to thousands of men and women who work tirelessly to promote the values and ideals of the Indian Nation in foreign lands, at times under stress and adverse circumstances, but seldom failing to prove the point that they are champions of the human cause. Today, October 9, 2021, as the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) marks its 75th Anniversary, we salute the officers borne on its cadre, those accredited to it and those who serve the country’s diplomatic and other missions all over the world. Like the soldiers of the Defence Forces whose tale of hard work never gets told, the life of a diplomat is not often understood, let alone appreciated.
Those of us born before India became a Republic (on January 26, 1950) would know how leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Bal Gangadar Tilak, Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar worked hard to shape the country’s policies and programmes to ensure progress and prosperity.
While all of them were keen to have checks and balances with assured accountability, transparency and integrity and public administration, Pandit Nehru’s contributions to two major areas that distinguish India remains unquestionable. The first was the institution of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the second was the Fourth Estate, popularly known as the Press. His penchant to establish and promote (those days mainly men) the sharpest Indian brains into the Service encouraged him to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio. He was the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister (1947-1964).
IFS was formally established on October 9, 1946 with the opening of diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas and hence this day is marked as significant not only in the annals of India’s public administration but also in international relations.
The Nehru Legacy
In his recently published Paper (‘The Indian Civil Service and Indian Foreign Policy 1923-1961), former Diplomat Amit Das Gupta (currently India Country Director at the University of New South Wales, Sydney), said that Pandit Nehru left a strong imprint on global affairs.
“Charismatic, handsome and a brilliant orator and writer, he led the largest decolonised country, setting examples with state-driven industrialisation and efforts to establish a new style in foreign affairs. Accordingly, books on Indian Foreign Policy mostly start with the assumption that Nehru was its main or even sole architect.”
That may not be entirely true, although Pandit Nehru envisioned the IFS and its officers. This Reporter is aware of the contributions of V K Krishna Menon (having known him well) in formulating India’s Foreign Policy and later advocating it as the Head of India’s Missions in the United Kingdom and United Nations. Of equal importance are the contributions of the leaders of the time, notably Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant.
Policy of Non-Alignment
Under Pandit Nehru’s guidance, India became the first country to begin a policy that was new in the history of international relations – the policy of Non-Alignment, which was founded in 1961 in Belgrade with the support of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, President Sukarno of Indonesia and Joseph Broz Tito of Yugoslavia. The Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) became the driving force of many former colonies and newly independent countries keen to protect their interests in international politics.
NAM was based on the five principles of ‘Panchsheel,’ which directed international conduct. Envisaged and formulated in 1954, these principles are mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-interference in each other’s military and internal affairs; mutual non-aggression; equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence and economic cooperation.
Shaping Indian Diplomats
Under Pandit Nehru’s guidance, the External Affairs Ministry published ‘A Statement of Officers of Branches A and B of the Indian Foreign Service’ in 1958. K P S Menon (Junior), an IFS Officer of the 1951 cadre, was given the responsibility of editing the Volume which contained the biodata of all the diplomats who joined the Ministry in the 1940s and the 1950s. The final Volume showed how Mr Nehru planned diplomats to be a mix of diverse backgrounds and skills.
At the time of publication of the Volume, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at the Ministry to promote Hindi internally. Known for his literary works as well as the father of actor Amitabh Bachchan, he was persuaded by Pandit Nehru to leave his job at the Allahabad University join the MEA.
The Directory also proved the extent of male dominance in Indian diplomacy during that era. The entire volume contains only two women Mira Ishardas Malik, who joined on May 1, 1954, and Chonira Belliappa Muthamma of the 1949 batch of the IFS. According to former External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, they were the only women diplomats of India during that time apart from Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who served as India’s Ambassador to the US and USSR but she was a political appointee.
The Scene now
There are more than 850 officers of the IFS employed in about 195 Embassies, High Commissions, Consular Offices and other offices outside India. They are supported by officials drawn from various other services as well as locally recruited staff. Among them are women who serve as High Commissioners, Ambassadors, Secretaries, Additional Secretaries, Joint Secretaries and officers at various levels.
While the Foreign Policy of India has been shaped and honed by various Prime Ministers since Pandit Nehru, the style followed by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is markedly different and refreshing. He believes in personal diplomacy and works closely with world leaders of various blocs.
As former Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee observed in a recent article, “Mr Modi believes that personal diplomacy could make a difference in world affairs and to a certain extent he has succeeded. He opted for course correction in Foreign Policy and like some of his predecessors, he tried to make a grand gesture to Pakistan by inviting former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his first oath-taking ceremony as India’s Prime Minister in 2014 and then visited him in Lahore on his birthday in 2015.”
Diplomats become Ministers
Although not common, a few diplomats who have either headed the Ministry as Foreign Secretaries or diplomatic missions have become Ministers in the federal government. Among them are the current External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (1977 Batch of IFS), Hardeep Singh Puri (1974), now Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Housing, Meira Kumar (1977), (daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram), who was Minister of Social Justice, Empowerment and Water Resources, Natwar Singh (1953), who was External Affairs Minister in 1986 and 2004 and Brajesh Mishra (1951), India’s first National Security Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister.
India-New Zealand Relations
India and New Zealand have enjoyed cordial diplomatic relations since long, despite a short break (1982-1985) when the two countries shut down their respective diplomatic missions in Wellington and New Delhi. Successive High Commissioners have helped to promote political, economic, cultural and educational ties with New Zealand, although a Free Trade Agreement remains elusive. Notable among them have been Bal Anand, Kadakath Pathrose Earnest, Retd Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Sanjeev Kohli and the current High Commissioner Muktesh Pardeshi.
About Muktesh Pardeshi
Born in Bihar, Mr Pardeshi (who is proficient in many languages including Spanish), joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1991 and worked in his country’s diplomatic missions in Columbia, Nepal, Indonesia and Mexico, apart from postings in the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi. It was during his tenure as the Head of Passports (2010 to 2016) that the systems and procedures were streamlined, improving the standard of service on a par with the best in the world. His services were applauded by the government (and personally to this Reporter by Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi during his visit to Auckland in 2010). Among the highlights of his diplomatic career was the ‘Disarmament Programme’ in Geneva in 1998.
Married to Rakhi, a teacher by profession, the couple has two daughters who live in London and New Delhi.
Mr Pardeshi is a fine product of India’s inimitable diplomacy.
His involvement with New Zealand and countries of the South Pacific has been pronounced. His groundwork was largely responsible for India to become a ‘Dialogue Partner’ of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2002 and he was a part of the delegation that attended the 34th Annual Summit of the Forum hosted by the then Prime Minister Helen Clark in Auckland at Sheraton (now Cordis) Hotel from August 12 to August 19, 2003.
New Delhi has been seeking membership status which has thus far not materialised. India shares the Commonwealth heritage and common interests with most countries of the region. Full membership will be mutually beneficial.
The Sir Edmund Hillary connection
Mr Pardeshi was involved with the visit to New Delhi of the late Sir Edmund Hillary in 2003 to be honoured by the then Prime Minister, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The celebrations included the publication of a Special Commemorative Stamp and the naming of the Road where the New Zealand High Commission is located as ‘Sir Edmund Hillary Marg.’