Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: The Foreign Office is set to institutionalise an annual meeting of all its heads of Indian missions (HoMs) with a gathering to be held here in the third week of August.

Following the brainstorming at the first gathering of the HoMs in December last, it was decided to hold a similar event every year at which diplomats will get an opportunity to hear and interact with the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister besides other Ministers and senior officials whose areas of jurisdiction intersect with the country’s foreign policy implementation apparatus.

The first gathering last year mainly focussed on terrorism because it took place a month after the Mumbai attacks and a few months after a diplomat was killed in a suicide bombing attack on the Indian mission in Kabul. The HoMs conference this year is expected to apportion time more evenly among the wide array of subjects that fall in the domain of foreign policy.

So far regional conferences of Indian diplomats such as those in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region or the Gulf have been held from time to time to bring about area-specific cohesiveness. The new format of an institutionalised HoMs annual conference is being modelled on the annual tri-services commanders’ meet held later this year. The HoMs meet will be inaugurated by the External Affairs Minister just like the armed forces’ commanders meet is first addressed by the Defence Minister. In addition diplomats from nearly 120 missions across the world will also dwell on issues relating to defence, trade and commerce, culture, overseas Indians, education and culture.

Besides Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, the conference is likely to be addressed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidamabaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Union Commerce & Industries Minister Anand Sharma, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vyalar Ravi, Union Tourism Minister Selja and the next Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee are also expected to attend.

Unlike the previous meeting, this gathering will see new faces at the top levels. Mr. S.M. Krishna, Ministers of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur and Shashi Tharoor and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao assumed charge this year. More changes are expected at the higher echelons of the Foreign Ministry apparatus with some senior officials due to to retire or get other postings.

At the first HoMs meeting, the Prime Minister identified food security, the management of water resources, energy security and overcoming technology denial regimes as the priority areas for diplomats besides terrorism.