IFS was ‘upper caste’ service, becoming more democratic now: Mani Shankar Aiyar

Aiyar referred to the 1962 Indo-China war as an alleged "Chinese invasion" but soon apologised for the usage of the word 'alleged'.


Published May 29, 2024 | 12:52 PM Updated May 29, 2024 | 12:52 PM

Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Congress leader and former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar called the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) of yore an “upper caste” service comprising “Macaulay ki aulad”, which he claimed is becoming more democratic now with the flavour of the country getting into it.

Speaking at the launch of author Kallol Bhattacharjee’s “Nehru’s First Recruit” in New Delhi on Tuesday,  28 May, Aiyar, who literally describes himself as the “last IFS recruit” of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said the country had overcome the “bad features” of its first generation recruits.

At the event, Aiyar also referred to the 1962 Indo-China war as an alleged “Chinese invasion” but soon “unreservedly apologised” for the usage of the word ‘alleged’.

In a brief statement late Tuesday, Aiyar said, “I unreservedly apologise for having mistakenly used the word ‘alleged’ before ‘Chinese invasion’ at the Foreign Correspondents Club this evening.”

Also Read: Congress says it disagrees with Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks on Pakistan

Congress distances itself

His phraseology, which triggered a fresh controversy, saw the Congress disassociating itself from Aiyar’s statement.

“Allowances must be made for his age. The INC distances itself from his original phraseology. The Chinese invasion of India that began on 20 October, 1962, was for REAL. So too were the Chinese incursions in Ladakh in early May 2020 in which 20 of our soldiers were martyred and the status quo disturbed,” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh posted on X.

Ramesh, in his post, also reiterated that the veteran party leader has “subsequently apologised unreservedly for using the term ‘alleged invasion’ mistakenly”.

Speaking on the IFS, Aiyar said, “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”.

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

Cites example of a diplomat learning new languages

The 83-year-old gave the example of an IFS officer he met during one of his visits to Istanbul, who was initially versed with only Hindi but 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.

Also Read: After ‘racist’ remark row, Sam Pitroda quits as Congress office bearer

Praises ‘re-invention’ of IFS

“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 83-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 could not get into another post of that nature. So I very gracefully declined,” he added.

“Nehru’s First Recruit”, priced at ₹699, is published by Hachette India.

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