From Brajesh to Doval, NSAs grew in power

From Brijesh to Doval, NSAs grew in power
Ajit Doval's rise in the government influence chart has made the IAS lobby and its supporters unhappy.

The Indian Police Service Officers Association has sprung to the defence of the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, whose rise in the government influence chart has made the IAS lobby and its supporters unhappy. Though Doval was the most powerful in the government dealing with external and internal security, his chairing of two critical committees on strategic policy and defence policy has made the critics see red.

This is because till now the national security policy committee was headed by Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, but now Doval has been made the Chairman of the Strategic Policy Group, while Sinha will be a member, along with the three service chiefs and secretaries of the ministries dealing with national security subjects.

But the IPS association argues that Doval is not a mere police officer but is an adviser to the prime minister having the rank of a Minister of State, who is above all officials, except Nripendra Mishra, the principal secretary to the prime minister, who also enjoys the rank of Minister of State.

Nripendra is a veteran IAS officer who along with Doval were handpicked by Modi in May 2014 to handle the two most critical jobs in the Prime Minister's Office and the government. The only time the two jobs were handled by the same person was during 1999-2004 when Brajesh Mishra, a retired foreign service officer who was principal secretary to the prime minister was also designated NSA. Otherwise, the national security functions had been handled in earlier governments between the principal secretary and the cabinet secretary.

Brajesh being the most powerful bureaucrat in the government also enjoyed the rank of a Cabinet minister, and rubbed shoulders with top ministers L K Advani (home), George Fernandes (defence), Jaswant Singh (external affairs and later finance) and Yashwant Sinha (finance and later external affairs) in the Cabinet Committee on Security. As he was very close to Vajpayee and was also the foreign policy cell convenor of BJP, he wielded absolute power over the bureaucracy. Brajesh had even claimed that, apart from the scientists involved, only Vajpayee and he knew the exact timing of the May 1998 nuclear tests in the Rajasthan desert.

Brajesh had advised Vajpayee to create the post of NSA as most of the powerful nations including USA had such positions. Since he enjoyed Cabinet rank, all secretaries including those dealing with external affairs, defence, space and atomic energy reported to him.

But Manmohan Singh, who succeeded Vajpayee, dismantled the powers enjoyed by Brajesh by splitting the post into three – T K A Nair, an ex-IAS, became principal secretary; J N Dixit, who retired from foreign service, became the NSA; and M K Narayanan, a retired IPS officer, became internal security adviser. All three were from Kerala and were given the Minister of State rank, a step below Brajesh. But the death of Dixit within months, made Singh combine the national security and internal security roles in the hands of Narayanan. In his second term, the post of NSA went to Shiv Shankar Menon who had retired from foreign service.

Modi continued the pattern by bringing in Nripendra and Doval. Their division of labour was same as during Manmohan Singh's time - Nripendra handled economic, social and regulatory ministries, while Doval dealt with ministries like home, defence, external affairs, space and atomic energy, apart from issues related to states and energy security.

Doval, who belonged to the Kerala cadre of IPS, was careful as the Cabinet Committee of Security had powerful ministers like Rajnath Singh (home), Arun Jaitley (finance and twice incharge of defence) and Sushma Swaraj (external affairs). Yet Doval, who was called James Bond during his years in the Intelligence Bureau for undertaking daring missions, has enjoyed Modi's complete confidence in dealing with Pakistan and China, as well as balancing the country's relations between the United States and Russia. The conferment of the committee chairmanship once again shows how indispensable the NSAs have become.

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