While the South Block would like to gloss over the rather embarrassing – yet colourful – language of American diplomats, the crisp and to-the-point style of US telegram writing has caught the Centre's eye.
It is understood the South Block has asked students at the Foreign Services Institute (FSI) to emulate this style if possible.
While China may have blocked the Wikileaks, the Ministry of External Affairs is asking its youngsters to read them and get a hang of the brevity with which thoughts and facts have been expressed.
On the other hand, Indian diplomats often digress from the issue at hand in the long-winding style of theirs. This, despite repeated annual reminders by present and past Foreign Secretaries asking their mission heads to be brief. They have often asked diplomats to sum up events in a maximum one-and-a-half page cable.
The issue of crisp diplomatic telegram writing has been raised by top Indian diplomats with the mission heads time and again with some senior diplomats actually being ticked off by the Foreign Secretaries for treating top priority telegrams as dispatches. While sensitive diplomatic telegrams are marked all the way up to the Prime Minister and the National Security Advisor, dispatches containing voluminous information are only read at the South Block and in the concerned departments.
Earlier this year, one top diplomat raised the issue of crisp telegram writing with National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and pointed out that specific telegrams from New Delhi were like press releases designed to promote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s foreign visits.
The diplomat referred to Prime Minister’s historic Saudi Arabia visit, which was the subject of a laudatory telegram from a Secretary-level officer in New Delhi, to point out that it was economical with the truth. The New Delhi telegram had made mountains out of King Abdullah receiving the PM at the airport, but the fact was that not only King Abdullah, but his entire Cabinet had come to the airport to receive Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai just days before Manmohan Singh’s trip to Riyadh.
Similarly, the Washington telegram on Manmohan Singh's visit last November had gone overboard over the PM being the first guest of honour for President Obama’s banquet, rather than getting into the substance of the relationship.
'The Indian Express' spoke to a cross-section of Indian top diplomats and learned that the present crop is better than their peer group when it comes to telegram writing. While telegrams of former Foreign Secretaries J N Dixit, K Raghunath and Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen were packed with information but ran into pages, the current crop of diplomats like Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar, Special Secretary Jayant Prasad, Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Ranjit Rae write crisp and to the point telegrams.
The masters of this game include Shiv Shankar Menon, his predecessor in South Block Shyam Saran and former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
Before computerisation took over, priority diplomatic cables had to be short and crisp as they had to be encrypted and decrypted at both ends. With the advent of automatic encryption and decryption, an Indian diplomat writes long sentences and quotes documents that are available in public. The Indian mission head often also marks his attendance through the long-winded telegrams with the PMO and NSA. Perhaps, the Wikileaks may end up minding the language of Indian diplomacy.