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Institutional weakness in Indian foreign policy establishment

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Recently, two small but important news brought my attention to Indian foreign policy making institution and their framework of working. First was, covert meeting of India’s top official- NSA with his Pakistani counterpart. This news got leaked in media later. The other news got my attention was low count of IFS officers; total strength of IFS cadre (as on 19th November, 2017) is 941; whereas China has close to 4000 and the United States has 20,000 working officials and diplomats.

The foreign policy has got major attention since the Modi regime took over in Delhi. And India has witnessed successes on various fronts from bilateral to multilateral; but still over-reliance on older template of foreign policy making, lack of innovative thinking and elitist mentality have limited the impact of policy changes taken by the government.

While the foreign policy experts In India have remain engaged in debate over the Government stand on critical diplomatic issue. There is very less discussion about the existing weaknesses in policy making establishments and how it has been one of the reasons for India punching below its weight in post cold war era.

First institutional fallacy is, recruitment of IFS cadre. One exam for IAS, IPS, IFS and many more CLASS A services. The problem with this mode of recruitment is still counting diplomacy as generalized officer job. And still very less indication that, it will change in near future. Only debate on lateral entry erupts from time to time; with no concrete approach.

And also at the time when India aspiring for greater role at global stage, the less number of officers limit the choice of India to engage with world at multiple levels at one time. The other point, I have come across the leathery of our MEA officials at diplomatic missions as told by many friends, the apathy of officials towards their own fellow-citizens shows only their elitist bureaucratic mentality.

Secondly, think-tanks in India has become the armchair for retired officials with very fewer opportunities for the younger generation. Experience should be respected but not at cost of innovative and fresh perspectives which younger lot brings to the table. Neither they have any cooperation with academia, media except lobbying for their corporate group.

Third issue is, while cooperative federalism has become the buzzword; it reflects very less in foreign policy formulation. And state only plays their role to show their antagonistic stand. As we have seen how West Bengal government has become roadblock in India’s relationship with Bangladesh over Teesta river.

The fourth issue is, lack of expertise. We as a nation still believe in generalized officers. An ambassador to Nepal can be sent to negotiate WTO issues to Geneva in no time. Similarly, not emphasizing on role of language is also limiting our approach to engage and understand the diplomatic culture of various other nations.

Similarly, in the era when economic interdependence has become the true pillar of international relations, and Geo-economy is getting prominence over Geo-politics; less coordination between India’s private sector and government is hampering our prospects world over and have led to delivery-deficit on various projects, Indian commit with other nations.

Finally, the lack of coherence between foreign Ministry and Media.The recent example is covert meeting of NSA’s of India and Pakistan in Bangkok ;which later leaked in Indian media. while government needs to be more open to media unlike era of cold war; Media should also leave its habit to sensationalize news and propaganda news by covering only few countries and complicating the government’s stance on delicate issues of diplomacy and restrict its sphere to maneuver.

Our diplomacy in recent times has proved its metal again on critical issues like Doklam and winning ICJ seat in United Nations. But it is also necessary to not lose clout in our periphery at the same time and only treat neighbours as strategic backyards. World’s fastest growing economy and aspiring global power needs to have strong institutional framework which can support India’s current “multi-alignment” foreign policy.

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