The origin of the Indian Foreign Service can be traced back to the British rule when the Foreign Department was created to conduct business with the “Foreign European Powers”. In fact it was on September 13, 1783, when the Board of Directors of the East India Company passed a resolution at Fort William, Calcutta (now Kolkata), to create a department, which could help “relieve the pressure” on the Warren Hastings administration in conducting its “secret and political business”. Subsequently known as the “Indian Foreign Department”, it went ahead with the expansion of diplomatic representation, wherever necessary, to protect British interests.
In 1843, Governor-General Ellenborough carried out administrative reforms under which the Secretariat of the Government was organized under four departments – Foreign, Home, Finance and Military. Each was headed by a Secretary level officer. The foreign department Secretary was entrusted with the “conduct of all correspondence belonging to the external and internal diplomatic relations of the government”.
From the very beginning, a distinction was maintained between the “foreign” and “political” functions of the Foreign Department; relations with all “Asiatic powers” (including native princely states of India during the British Raj) were treated as “political” and with all European powers as “foreign”.
Although the Government of India Act, 1935 sought to delineate more clearly functions of the “Foreign” and “Political” wings of the Foreign Department, it was soon realized that it was administratively imperative to completely bifurcate the Foreign department. Consequently, the External Affairs Department was set up separately under the direct charge of the Governor-General.
The idea of establishing a separate diplomatic service to handle the external activities of the Government of India originated from a note dated September 30, 1944, recorded by Lt-Gen T. J. Hutton, Secretary, Planning and Development Department of the Government. When this note was referred to the Department of External Affairs for comments, Mr Olaf Caroe, the Foreign Secretary, recorded his comments in an exhaustive note detailing the scope, composition and functions of the proposed service. Mr Caroe pointed out that as India emerged to a position of autonomy and national consciousness, it was imperative to build up a system of representation abroad that would be in complete harmony with the objectives of the future government.
In September 1946, on the eve of India’s independence, the Government of India decided to create a service called the Indian Foreign Service for India’s diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas.
In 1947, there was a near seamless transformation of the Foreign and Political department of the British India government into what then became the new Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations and in 1948 the first batch recruited under the combined Civil service examination system of the Union Public Service Commission joined the service. This system of entry has remained the staple mode of intake into the IFS to this day.