A Brief History of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS)

The Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is one of the three all India services you can aspire to if you crack the UPSC civil services exam.  It is a prestigious service on par with the IAS in stature. As an IFS officer, you can serve in the various diplomatic missions that India has in other countries. You can even move up the ladder to become ambassadors of the country. This article gives you a brief history of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

It all started on September 13, 1783 when the East India Company’s Board of Directors passed a resolution at Fort William, Calcutta to form a department to conduct “secret and political business”. Warren Hastings was the Governor-General of India at that time. The department was named the Indian Foreign Department and it engaged in the expansion of diplomatic representation to safeguard British interests.

UPSC Civil Service Posts in India

Under Governor-General Ellenborough in 1843, administrative reforms were carried out in which the Government Secretariat was divided into four departments namely, Foreign, Home, Finance and Military. The Foreign department Secretary’s job was to engage in “all correspondence belonging to the external and internal diplomatic relations of the government”.  It must be noted that there was a distinction maintained by the then government between ‘foreign’ and ‘political’ powers. Political referred to Asiatic powers including the princely states of India, and foreign referred to all European powers.

After the Government of India Act, 1935, a separate External Affairs Department was set up which was headed directly by the Governor-General. The idea of the establishment of a separate department exclusively for external affairs first finds mention in a note written by Lieutenant-General T J Hutton who was the Secretary of the Planning and Development Department. In response to this note, the then Foreign Secretary Sir Olaf Caroe drafted a note in which he wrote extensively on the scope, composition and functions of the proposed service.

Finally, in September 1946, the Government of India created the Indian Foreign Service for India’s diplomatic, commercial and consular representation overseas. In 1947, in a free India, the new Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations was set up. Recruitment to this elite service was through the UPSC exam and the first batch of officers was recruited in 1948.

Also read | UPSC Civil Services: All you need to know about the Indian Foreign Service (IFS)


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