[Yojana Archive] IFS: The Continuing Salience

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Recently, a diplomat of ours gave a fiery speech at the UNGA bashing Pakistan as being indoctrinated as an official spokesperson for the Taliban and not his own country. This has earned the diplomat heaps of praises all across the country.

This article will let you know the evolution, restructure, and successes of the mighty Indian Foreign Services.

Tracing the origin of Indian Foreign Services

  • On 13 September 1783, the Board of Directors of the East India Company passed a resolution at Fort William.
  • It aimed to create a department that would help relieve the pressure on the Warren Hastings administration in conducting its secret and political business.
  • Those were difficult times for the East India Company, having just barely saved face against the Maratha Empire in the First Anglo-Maratha War, and losing to Hyder Ali in the South.
  • The British Parliament was about to pass the Pitts India Act, 1784, which would further limit the independent powers of the East India Company.
  • This department expanded its outreach to diplomacy, to finally become the IFS.

Initial restructuring

  • By 1843, the British were powerful. Only Punjab was left to be conquered. By then, however, the East India Company, through a series of Charter Acts, had become a shadow of its past self.
  • The British found it necessary to restructure the foreign department for better management, and Governor-General Ellenborough, therefore, carried out administrative reforms and created four departments: Foreign, Home, Finance, and Military.

Establishment since Independence

  • By September 1946, India had come close to independence.
  • There was a need for a different name and a different structure for a newly formed country.
  • The Indian Foreign Service was created for India’s diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas.

Need for IFS

  • The IFS, being one of the most competitive civil services in the world, and also one of the most exclusive, has carved a niche for itself in diplomatic spheres globally.
  • It has managed India’s external relations with other nations through a host of methods:
  • the service is responsible for representing India in international platforms and negotiating on its behalf,
  • maintaining friendly relations and protecting India’s national interests, and
  • gathering important information abroad and reporting back to the nation on the same.

Functions of IFS

  • IFS is responsible for representing a country’s interests abroad and also garnering and disseminating pertinent information that forms the core of foreign policy decisions.
  • Foreign Service officers constitute the backbone of this wing and aim to promote peace and prosperity while advancing their nation’s interests in other countries.
  • They perform a vast array of duties ranging from defending their home nation’s foreign policy in high-stakes political conversations to helping their citizens travelling overseas or vice-versa.
  • In an increasingly globalized world, the importance of an effective foreign service cannot be underestimated.
  • This is especially relevant, for an emerging power like India, which has harboured intentions of becoming a leading power in global politics and has been actively pursuing this goal.

Representing India

In essence, an Indian Foreign Service Officer represents India in

  • Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates
  • Permanent missions to multilateral organizations like the UN
  • It protects India’s national interests in the country of their posting, promotes friendly relations with the receiving states as well as their people that include NRIs/PIOs
  • It reports accurately on the developments in the country of posting which influences the drafting of India’s policies, negotiates various agreements on various issues

Concerns of evolution

  • In this emerging new world, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) must no longer maintain its Cold War-era institutional architecture and several changes have indeed been ushered in recent times.
  • However, the IFS is greatly limited by its disproportionately small cadre, its inability to shift to a more holistic recruitment process, and its unwillingness to allow experts from other public and private organizations, laterally or otherwise.
  • One of the biggest impediments to the growth of the IFS since its conception has been the narrow and limited application criteria, that do not match up to the needs of the service.

Recent Achievements of the IFS

  • Irrespective of the criticisms, India has been boxing above its weight in the international arena for decades now. To note some recent achievements of the IFS,
  • India managed to get elected to the United Nations Security Council for 2021-2022 with one of the largest positive vote counts ever.
  • The foreign service was at the frontline of the Vande Bharat Mission that helped stranded Indians abroad and carried out an enormous evacuation operation.
  • The IFS officers and their teams have been working relentlessly with other government agencies and the private sector to provide medicines and Covid-19 protective equipment to more than 150 countries by overcoming daunting logistical challenges, etc.

Way forward

If the IFS is to excel as an institution on its own, it must have a different application process only for those interested in joining the service, rather than being grouped with other civil services.

  • Additionally, since the skill-set required to conduct matters of foreign policy is different from those required to manage issues of internal significance, the IFS needs to broaden the criteria on which its recruitment process is based.
  • Attempts to reform the IFS must focus on streamlining the recruitment process in a manner that can effectively handle the large number of applicants that apply each year without compromising on the quality of the application process.
  • Opening up the IFS to allow entry of outside actors must be done in a phased and structured manner to ensure an adequate balance between different levels/ranks of officials.
  • The IFS must also keep up with the changes in the diplomatic world, as different forms of diplomacy, like public and digital diplomacy, gain more relevance.
  • And lastly, reforming the IFS would require starting at the very grassroots level to reform the institutions that produce applicants for this service.
  • Indian schools and universities need to be better equipped to produce a more capable generation of students in the fields required to be successful in the IFS.


  • An effective foreign service is of utmost importance to India’s interests because even the most developed nations have interdependencies on other nations to fulfil their interests and so does India.
  • Since no nation can remain isolated, formulation of foreign policy is an indispensable feature of the modern state, so that the states sustain in the international sphere.
  • Therefore, the Indian Foreign Service will continue to play a critical role in ensuring a secure and prosperous existence for India within the international sphere.
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