NEW DELHI: With India’s global image taking a beating in recent years, the Manmohan Singh government has decided to change the country’s flailing 21st century narrative by setting in motion a strategy to double the strength of the country’s diplomatic corps – the Indian Foreign Services – in order to engage more pro-actively with the world. India has just 845 diplomats representing a population of 1.2 billion through 180 missions and consulates overseas, which according to former minister of state for external affairsShashi Tharoor is the ‘smallest diplomatic corps of any major country,’ including most emerging economies and the BRICS nations.

At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month with influential global Indians, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid gave an assurance that the government is doubling the strength of the IndianForeign Services in the next few years.

The assurance reflects fresh thinking in the UPA administration that had earlier diluted a 2008 plan moved by the foreign ministry to double the IFS cadre strength. At the time, the cabinet had decided to expand the foreign services’ top brass by just 320 people, at a painstakingly slow pace of 32 new inductees each year over a ten-year period.

This hasn’t materialized either as the foreign ministry initially struggled to find 32 IFS-worthy candidates a year, even though the plan allowed roping in officers from other government departments on deputation and promoting some officers from the clerical grades of the IFS ‘B’ (the administrative and consular staff in foreign ministry offices).

Between 2011 and 2013, the government recruited 107 IFS officers at a rate of nearly 36 a year, but some of them have already dropped out and the foreign ministry stares at the prospect of an already thin diplomatic corps thinning further in the years ahead

India’s diplomatic cadre strength looks especially unflattering when compared with some of its emerging markets or BRICS peers and downright puny when compared with developed nations such as the US or France.