In a radical proposal aimed at enhancing India’s profile abroad, the External Affairs Ministry is all set to double its strength from the present 4,746 in the next five years.
The proposal to beef up the ministry's position will be placed before the Union Cabinet next month, South Block sources told the Hindustan Times on Sunday. “The proposal is currently doing the rounds of different ministries,” they said.
The idea is not just to double the strength of the Indian Foreign Service, which is about 700 strong, but the ministry as a whole, in order to meet diverse requirements as India engages with a globalising world.
For instance, there is a severe shortage of officers at the level of Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary and Director — positions where a lot of the nitty-gritty is actually worked out.
In April, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon compared India with other emerging powers and told a Parliamentary panel that for every Indian diplomat there were four Brazilian diplomats and seven Chinese.
According to Menon, the size of his ministry had actually shrunk from 4,866 to 4,764 in the last 10 years during which India's foreign trade had grown seven times, the number of passports being approved had doubled to 44 lakh and visas had tripled to over 57 lakh.
Applauding the initiative, former Indian ambassador Hamid Ansari said there had to be an appropriate ratio of diplomats in the field and at headquarters in Delhi. "Our ratio has meant there are too few officers at headquarters,” Ansari, who was once India's permanent representative at the United Nations, told this writer.
While presenting the case for beefing up the ministry, Foreign Secretary Menon made it clear that any expansion of the diplomatic corps would have to be both "phased and organised”.
G Parthasarathy, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, felt that adding to the ranks of the country’s diplomatic corps had been long overdue. “We need a larger service for both regional and functional specialisation,” he argued. Parthasarathy said the size of many of India’s missions abroad was smaller than that of Australia. “There is not enough in depth political and economic analysis. The same officer is doing half-a-dozen things,” he added.
A European diplomat remarked that at many meetings they had been shocked by the disproportionate size of Indian and European Union delegations. "We may have 10 people on our team, but the Indian side comprises just one or two persons.”
All that is about to change.