Why is India boosting its diplomatic workforce?

India is planning to restructure its foreign service and increase the number of entry level officers to address staffing shortages

The restructuring comes amid plans to open nine new Indian missions in the coming years (photo: National Herald archives)
The restructuring comes amid plans to open nine new Indian missions in the coming years (photo: National Herald archives)


The government of India earlier this month approved a proposal to review and restructure the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), which is expected to create more than 200 additional posts within the next five years.

The move comes after a parliamentary committee on external affairs concluded that the country's diplomatic service is "most short-staffed" compared to other nations that have smaller economies than India.

The committee also recommended that the review should include comparisons between the IFS and the diplomatic missions of China, as well as the foreign services of major developing nations.

"The country's interests and influence extend into more continents and it needs more diplomatic representation," a senior officer told DW, requesting anonymity. "While India has increased the number of missions on those continents, they are inadequate."

Boosting the number of officers

"It is well known that the size of the IFS is not commensurate with the needs of India, and the ambitions of its global reach," former Indian diplomat Deepa Wadhwa told DW.

This is despite the fact that "India has always been acknowledged as a very effective player in international affairs, including in multilateral fora like the UN," she said.

She added that the enlargement was needed as India opens "more diplomatic missions around the world and beefs up the headquarters to be able to adequately handle the many new dimensions of diplomacy which are emerging and where it has interests at stake."

D B Venkatesh Varma, a former diplomat who served as India's ambassador to Russia, pointed out that the restructuring plan is a welcome but a long overdue decision by the government.

"India's expanding global footprint requires increased diplomatic foot soldiers — not just in underrepresented regions like Central Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also for new initiatives of India on the global level to boost multipolarity both at the UN and economic diplomacy," Varma told DW.

"By 2027 we will be the third largest economy — we cannot have a foreign service of the same size when we are the 10th largest. A complex world also needs more specialization — the IFS was meant to be a specialized service."

"Lastly, the Indian diaspora is the largest diaspora in the world — with varied needs and interests. To do all this and more, the IFS must grow, spread out, specialize, but integrate and project a new India abroad in the decades to come," Varma added.

Recruitment methods

IFS officers are traditionally recruited through annual exams for aspiring state officials. Those who qualify take a second round of exams, which is then followed by an interview. At the end of the process, around 1,000 people are recruited into the IFS, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), and other agencies.

Amitabh Mattoo, a professor in international relation at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes that the Indian government could perhaps think of more creative ways of boosting its IFS ranks, such as recruiting experts from other departments, universities, think tanks and elsewhere.

"The IFS lacks capacity, coherence, and clarity," Mattoo told DW. "It seems out of sync and out of touch. Surely, it needs lateral enrolment and I think 50% of ambassadors must be out of the diplomatic corps."

The approval for the cadre review and restructuring was granted amid plans to open nine new Indian missions in the coming years.

"India's diplomatic service has been badly short staffed," Meera Shankar, India's former envoy to US, told DW. "For a country of India's size and scale and the increasing spread and complexity of its global interaction a more robust diplomatic presence is essential."

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