Downsizing may be the name of the game in government today, but in one area a dramatic increase in numbers is the only way to go. This is the ministry of external affairs (MEA). After years of inactivity, the MEA has decided to push ahead with plans to double its personnel strength over the next five years. The demands of diplomacy have changed and we cannot afford to be caught napping. We need the best inputs and analysis from our men and women posted in missions and posts abroad. And for this numbers alone won’t do.
This is the age of specialisation where the diplomat must not only be on top of his or her subject but also have a keen understanding of the culture and language of the country he or she is posted to. The focus has to be commerce as India looks to become a global player. Of course, this does not mean that the geo-strategic aspects be downplayed at all. Far more needs to be done by our missions to project an image of India as a place where it pays to do business, not to mention take in the sights of Incredible India. This means visa formalities must be made simpler, easier and quicker. Another area where much more needs to be done is for our embassies to look after the interests of Indians working in different countries.
Back home, South Block needs officers at rungs lower than that of joint secretary. These under-secretaries, deputy-secretaries and directors are critical if the system is to deliver good briefs and analyse cables. Lack of funds is not an issue anymore. India must at least be on par with China and Brazil which have seven and four diplomats respectively for one Indian.
The MEA also needs to look within. Often, the same problems that plague babudom at home are replicated abroad. In a globalised world, our diplomats cannot be hindered by needless red tape. A less hierarchical and more consultative approach will do a lot to streamline the system.