STRUGGLING TO cope with expanding international duties, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is ready with a plan — of more missions — to meet India's rapidly growing international profile. The ministry clearly has ambitions to catapult the country into a world leader, in tune with its aspirations for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
According to senior officials, the Prime Minister, who also holds the external affairs portfolio, has approved the plan and wants it carried through as swiftly as possible. The exercise, to be spread over a 10-year period, involves an additional financial outlay of Rs 62 crore, at the rate of Rs 6.2 crore annually.
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon has been told to fine-tune the plan for approval by the Ministry of Finance, before it is placed before the cabinet for clearance. Menon, in a letter to his colleagues urged them to respond by the end of the month, so that he can finalise the draft proposal.
The MEA carried out an extensive survey to figure out how best it can improve its functioning. It was called “a comprehensive review of requirements, both for missions as well as headquarters, carried out with a 10-year horizon. It is based on factoring personnel requirements both at headquarters and missions abroad using objective criteria which list the overall relevance to India of countries”.
The survey, based on inputs ranging from the political and strategic importance of a country to India, the increasing trade and economic development needs of a country and the presence of Indian diaspora, aims to meet India’s emerging profile over the next few years. The plan, according to documents available with the HT, also aims to substantially raise the cadre strength in missions abroad. The proposal is likely to raise similar demands for staff expansion among other ministries, many of which are equally hard pressed.
Among the world’s major nations, India’s diplomatic representation abroad is restricted to 114 of the 192 member-states of the UN, the draft proposal says. This is compared with 163 countries in which both the United States and China have missions. France is represented in the largest number of countries abroad: 166.
The plan proposes to open 24 new missions, some in countries where there are already embassies, and create 372 official posts for them.