New Delhi: National security advisor: In ten years of United Progressive Alliance rule, national security has been compromised in the external and military realms and within India. Sanjaya Baru in his book confirms what was generally known, which is that Manmohan Singh refused to take briefings from the chiefs of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau and depended more than a responsible prime minister should on the filtered and often prejudiced information provided by the national security advisor.

This writer knew Manmohan Singh’s first national security advisor slightly, Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who the prime minister seemed to like and trust more than Dixit’s successor, Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, under whose direct or indirect charge, either as the director of the Intelligence Bureau or its senior officer, a serving and a former prime minister were killed, namely Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Narayanan could hold any opinion of himself, including that he was John Edgar Hoover reincarnated, but he was basically incompetent. His having failed to prevent the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi should have forever disgraced him.

But he made a comeback, thanks to 10 Janpath, for who loyalty mattered more than competence, and it is common knowledge that he drove Dixit to death with his sniping, scheming and aggression. He was clearly and obviously unsuited to succeed Dixit. That Manmohan Singh knowing all this still chose to engage with security issues entirely through Narayanan speaks of his recklessness and fatalism as prime minister, both terrible qualities in a head of government. There is no defence for this.

But Dixit was also mediocre. He had an exaggerated reputation as foreign secretary, and he and his team made a mess of the 1987 Sri Lanka intervention. You can feel tops behaving like a viceroy being the Indian high commissioner in Sri Lanka, but that is no qualification to become a national security advisor. He was a lightweight in strategic and deterrence matters (most of the foreign office is a joke on such issues), and it is doubtful that he understood intelligence. He was diligent and took himself seriously, a worrier if you will, but he was not national security advisor material. As for Narayanan, the less said the better. He did not outgrow the Intelligence Bureau. He played havoc with the Research and Analysis Wing, which is a pale shadow of what it was. If Narendra Modi becomes the prime minister, he has to scrutinize all this before making the critical appointment of national security advisor.

This writer does not believe any of today’s front-runners for the post has the necessary all-round knowledge and experience to manage the multiple demands of this assignment. Necessarily, therefore, the responsibilities have to be shared, and by three persons, one each overseeing external, internal and military securities, with a rotating headship. For internal security, this writer would unhesitatingly choose Ajit Kumar Doval, but for the remaining two posts, the choices are less clear.

The idea of three persons sharing the national security advisor-ship is that, like the election commission, it would allow a talent pool to develop and grow. Such an institution would encourage the brightest in the military to aim for a wider canvas of study, because India’s natural destiny is as an intercontinental power. It would also compel the diplomatic service to remain grounded, curb its tendency to waffle, and press it to learn, think and act harder on deterrent matters than it does. Lastly, it would push the intelligence services to incorporate policing in their internal security protocol, and thus widen the base for drawing and absorbing talent.

Ultimately, as prime minister, if he becomes one, Narendra Modi would have to take the decisions, as advisors can only elaborate on the options available. Even with the best advisors, Modi should not wall himself from receiving direct inputs from the ministries and services related to defence, external affairs and intelligence. Several times in the beginning of Manmohan Singh’s tenure, this writer exhorted him to take regular briefings from the intelligence services, and later cautioned against Narayanan, but to no effect. Narendra Modi should be wiser from all this, and neither have an intelligence tsar, nor an all-powerful national security advisor with veto powers.

Let us not repeat the episodes of Brajesh Mishra and Mayankote Kelath Narayanan.


Also read ‘Team Modi - 1’., “Team Modi - 2”., “Team Modi-3.” “Team Modi - 4”. and “Team Modi - 5”.