If the instances are true, the
chaps’ knuckles must be hit so
badly that they will remember the
pain for the rest of their career
A foreign secretary with an impeccable record of integrity like incumbent Nirupama Rao can and should make a beginning to clean up the rot in the system, says M K Bhadrakumar
The WikiLeaks disclosures have become a many- splendored thing. Kudos to The Hindu newspa- per and its Editor N Ram! The disclosures are
leading to lots of fireworks in the Indian parliament
and the political class is quite nervous that the morrows might bring more disclosures — with the solitary
exception of the Left parties, perhaps. It is quite funny
for a commoner to see the habitually cocky Delhi
elites becoming wobbly and suddenly weak in the
Of course, the serious part is that it all highlights
what a rotten society we have become in just about 64
years. As a former member of the Indian Foreign
Service, what hurts me most is that the rot has set in
amongst my former colleagues also.
Can anything be redeemed? From available
accounts, it seems the official approach is to push
things under the carpet via what has come to be
known as ‘public diplomacy’, a State Department
coinage which we promptly borrowed, to euphemistically to refer to the art of somehow or the other making the image appear vastly superior to the original.
The danger is that the establishment might incrementally come to believe that the image is the reality.
All official pronouncements so far give a lousy feeling. I hope I am wrong.
No doubt, these diplomatic cables are ‘privileged’
communication. So what? Today they are out there in
the public realm in broad daylight and something
needs to be done about it. I hope behind the facade of
‘public diplomacy’, some serious effort is being contemplated to get to the root of the systemic malaise
that the IFS seems to be passing through. Of course,
any rot of this scale could only have set in over a period of time and would have taken place only over the
tenures of several foreign secretaries and ministers.
Therefore, this is not a personal issue.
What the WikiLeaks disclose is that the IFS professional
culture has decayed alarmingly. Maybe a few bandicoots
are bringing a bad name to the ’silent majority’ in the service, but then, it doesn’t mitigate the problem.
Four things come into my notice. One, like the Delhi
elites in general, the IFS guys also seem to be infected with
the virus that it is in their self-interests and their professional interests and in terms of their career prospects, to be
in the good books of the American embassy in
Chanakyapuri, New Delhi.
Perhaps, such interests always existed in terms of getting
petty favors from the American embassy in terms of a visa
or a green card for a child or a scholarship in an American
university. But matters have obviously gone far beyond that
limit. A large number of IFS people have half their families
settled in America, which has become ‘second home’ for
But what really matters is that it seems a belief has gained
ground among some of the best and the brightest in the IFS
that to work closely with American diplomats is actually
what is expected of them by our political establishment. A
ADREES LATIF/ REUTERS
certain culture has developed
among these chaps. Probably it
is only a matter of their DNA
or perhaps it goes beyond that.
Either way, it is a disgraceful
thing to happen on such rampant scale.
Second, I am aghast how easily accessible our chaps have
become for the American
diplomats. There used to be set
norms regarding the level of
interaction. Can’t remember in my time a secretary-level
officer chatting up an ‘acting political counselor’ (read first
secretary) of the US embassy over Iran, as the leaked cables
claim. In my time, even as joint secretary (head of division)
I never dealt with anyone other than the ambassadors or
the deputy chiefs of mission. Never. Not even once.
Obviously, American diplomats are having a terrific time,
cross-checking with our garrulous guys, double-checking
facts and making such idiots out of our diplomats.
What happened to the time-honored professional etiquette that every conversation with a foreign diplomat
needed to be put on record and the superior
kept informed? Don’t our chaps keep note-takers any longer to minute conversations? It
seems the IFS no longer observes those golden rules.
Even more shocking is that the conversation
touches on some highly sensitive aspects of
foreign policy and government thinking. Is it
true that our guys have behaved like this?
Again, someone from the establishment
should stand up and categorically say, ‘NO,
such a conversation never took place. It is a
lie.’ Former US ambassador David Mulford
says it is all true.
Third, it is shocking that some fellows have
begun freely badmouthing their senior colleagues to the first available American diplomat. Shame on them. No matter where such
conversations took place — be it over breakfast, lunch or dinner — such pillow talk is reprehensible. And if the instances are true, the
chaps’ knuckles must be hit so badly that they
will remember the pain for the rest of their
Fourth, some guys have volunteered information to United States diplomats about the
government of India’s briefs. This is like the
fence eating the crops, as we say in Kerala.
They are simply unfit to hold any serious
charge even if they are ‘whiz kids’.
My conclusion is that all this is happening
only because of weak leadership at the political level. The bureaucrats are a clever lot.
They quickly attune themselves to the political masters. When they see how the political
leadership is vulnerable to American pressures, they instinctively make conclusions
about playing safe. Therefore, how can the
IFS fellows be sanitized and how the service
can be laundered in isolation and purged of
its filth when rivers of filth are flowing all
around them? Seems unrealistic for the
However, a foreign secretary with an impeccable record of integrity like
the incumbent foreign secretary can and should make a
beginning. Prime ministers
and external affairs ministers
will come and go. But a beginning needs to be made. The
‘red line’ needs to be drawn.
The rule book needs to shown.
It shouldn’t be construed as
‘anti-Americanism’ or affront
to the current political leader-
It is a matter of the foreign service’s professional morale
in the long term. How many officers in the service must be
hanging their heads in shame after reading The Hindu!
Besides, today it is a matter of irresponsible, indiscreet talk
which makes the fellows themselves look imbeciles.
Tomorrow, the transgression can well be in the nature of
surrendering vital national interests — that is, if it isn’t
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian bureaucrat