Mani Shankar Aiyar on the Evolution of Indian Foreign Service

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar highlighted the transformation of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) from an 'upper caste' establishment to a more democratic one at the launch of 'Nehru's First Recruit'. He praised the increasing diversity, including women and Hindi speakers, marking the evolution of India’s diplomatic service.


PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 29-05-2024 11:16 IST | Created: 29-05-2024 11:16 IST
Mani Shankar Aiyar on the Evolution of Indian Foreign Service
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Congress leader and former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar called the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) of yore an ''upper caste'' service, which he claimed is becoming more democratic now with the flavour of the country getting into it.

Speaking at the launch of author Kallol Bhattacherjee's ''Nehru's First Recruit'' here on Tuesday, Aiyar, who literally describes himself as the ''last IFS recruit'' of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said the country has overcome the ''bad features'' of its first generation recruits.

The book, through the stories and experiences of India's earliest diplomats, presents the foundational history of the country's diplomatic corps and indeed the beginning of India's engagement in global affairs.

''The IFS up to my generation and even into the 21st century was an upper caste service. It was a service made up of 'Macaulay ki aulad' (children of Lord Macaulay). Now, it is becoming more democratic and it has a lot of Hindi speakers... We are getting the flavour of our country into the foreign service and that I think is a very good thing,'' said Aiyar to a packed audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay is credited with playing a vital role in the introduction of English education in India.

The 83-year-old gave the example of an IFS officer that he met during one of his visits to Istanbul, who initially versed with the HIndi language only, became fluent in multiple languages within one year. ''I was very impressed on a visit to Istanbul to find a new recruit who could only speak to me in Hindi. But by the time I reached Istanbul again the following year, the same gentleman spoke fluent English, and more importantly fluent Turkish. So, we are getting the flavour of our country into the foreign service and that I think is a very good thing,'' he added.

Aiyar, who joined the IFS in 1963 and served as joint secretary from 1982 to 1983 in the Ministry of External Affairs, underscored how the foreign service has now grown beyond the prejudices of its first recruits. For instance, the growing strength of women in the previously male dominated IFS cadre, which he said makes ''half or even more of the total recruits'' presently unlike 1948.

Chonira Belliappa, known as India's first woman diplomat, was the only woman to clear the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations in 1948.

''They are allowed to get married, they are even allowed to marry foreigners... Earlier, in the IFS even a man had to retire if they married someone from abroad. One of my batchmates Sivakumar Das was shunted out to the UNDP because he married a Czech girl. I think all those bad features of the first generation of recruits have now been overcome,'' he explained. Praising Nehru for the ''re-invention'' of modern age IFS, Congress leader Karan Singh, who was also among the speakers at the book launch, on the occasion recalled how he himself narrowly missed the chance of becoming a full-time career diplomat.

According to the 93-year-old, in 1964, the then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri offered him to become the High Commissioner to the UK, which he declined due to his political aspirations.

''It was a tempting offer but by that time the political bug had already bitten me... I was keen to get into national politics. I have done this ceremonial post for many years. I thought that I cannot get into another post of that nature. So I very gracefully declined,'' he added.

''Nehru's First Recruit'', priced at Rs 699, is published by Hachette India.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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