The WikiLeaks disclosures have become a many-splendoured thing. Kudos to Hindu newspaper and N. Ram! The disclosures are leading to lots of fireworks in the 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 legs.
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’, an American 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, 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.
Perhaps, such interests always existed in terms of getting petty favours 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 them.
But what really matters 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. In sum, a 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 Counsellor’ (read First Secretary) of the US embassy over Iran, as the WikiLeaks claims. In my time, even as Joint Secretary (Head of Division) I never dealt with anyone other than the ambassadors or the DCMs. 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-honoured professional etiquette that every conversation with a foreign diplomat needed to be put on record and the superior kept informed? Don’t out chaps keep note-takers any longer to minute conversations? It seems 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 Mulfrod says it is all true.)
Third, it is shocking that some fellows have begun freely bad-mouthing their own senior colleagues to the first available American diplomat. Shame on them. No matter where such conversations took place – be it over breakfast or 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 career.
Fourth, some guys have volunteered information to US diplomats about the GIO’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 moment.
However, a Foreign Secretary with an impeccable record of integrity like the incumbent FS can and should make a beginning. Prime Ministers and EAMs 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 leadership.
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 today after reading the morning’s Hindu! Besides, today it is a matter of irresponsible, indiscreet talk which makes the fellows themselves look imbeciles, but tomorrow the transgression can well be in the nature of surrendering vital national interests – that is, if it isn’t happening already.
Posted in Diplomacy.
– March 20, 2011