NEW DELHI: “Two states” is the current buzzword in the Ministry of External affairs. It’s the story of love. It has the potential to become the best-seller, like the book with the same title. The ministry now wants senior officers to familiarise themselves with two states to improve coordination and bring in business. IFS officers often considered disconnected from the ground have been told to be in-charge of two states to develop networks, improve coordination and bring business. This is an offshoot of the Modi-government’s pet theme of “cooperative federalism” with the message drilled into the foreign ministry that its work with states will be an important parameter of its efficiency.
The process began with ambassadors, but has now been expanded to senior joint secretaries in the headquarters too. It began last year, when a new position of joint secretary (states) was created in October, which has been given to 1992 batch IFS officer Gopal Baglay, after the completion of his tenure as the deputy high commissioner in Pakistan. “There was a feeling that IFS officers had perhaps got disconnected from contemporary India, especially the India outside Delhi, as they had remained abroad for long stints at a time,” said an MEA official.
The circular had gone out to the heads of missions a week before their annual conference in February that they had to give in their preferences for which states and administrations they wanted to get familarised with and work intimately with. This was further reinforced during the five-day marathon conference, with sessions with Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh chief ministers and representatives of north-eastern states. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought it up in his inaugural speech. “The PM said that all officers belong to one state or another. At least, they should be good ambassadors for their own home states,” said an official who attended the conference.
At the mission level, the ‘two states’ have already started to get implemented. For example, the Indian embassy in Thailand had on Friday hosted a “celebrate Assam” event, which was sponsored by the state government. Earlier, a 16-member farmers’ delegation from Assam had visited Thailand on the government’s program. But, beyond missions, even officers posted in the head quarters had been asked to give in their preferences for two states. “I wrote the names of my home state and another state based on whether I think that there will be interest from foreign investors,” said an MEA official.
Officials said that the “familiarisation”-plan is to ensure that all states get individualised attention, which may mean finding synergies in business and trade, but also to expedite routine consular issues. At the HQ, officers with their allocated states may not just pitch in these areas, but also help with other matters like getting political clearances for foreign visits of state government ministers, officials and delegations. Earlier, most of the requests were routed from the state governments through resident commissioners and then to either the coordination division or the territorial division which directly dealt with the concerned foreign country. The rules and guidelines are still ambiguous, as this is still in a preliminary stage but an officer described it as becoming the “coordinator” in MEA of those two states, as per his understanding.