…and the Prime Minister’s lack of imagination
M K Narayanan’s greatest asset, apart from his long service in India’s domestic intelligence services, is that he has the ears of the Prime Minister. It was a statement of the personal equation between Dr Manmohan Singh and Narayanan that was behind his earlier appointment as internal security advisor. And then there is that helpful proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family. His appointment as the Prime Minister’s national security advisor also puts to rest the bureaucratic and political intrigue triggered off by the untimely death of J N Dixit. Good news, indeed?
Not quite. While Narayanan’s internal security credentials are respectable, the brief of the national security advisor transcends policing and defence — it has a vital dimension in the diplomatic sphere where Narayanan’s abilities are unproven and unknown. Aware of these shortcomings, Manmohan Singh has separated key diplomatic portfolios from the office of the national security advisor and farmed them out to the serving Foreign Secretary and an ex-ambassador; Shyam Saran and S K Lambah, who will look after bilateral negotiations with China and Pakistan, respectively. But the whole is always larger than the sum of its parts, and it remains unclear who (and how many) of these three will engage the United States, Russia, Europe and other powers.
The institution of the national security advisor has been weakened by the manner in which it was treated after Dixit’s death. Firstly, there was no succession plan, and an ad hoc decision catapulted Narayanan into bigger boots. Then, instead of getting the best man for the job, the Indian government divided the job itself into three. Therein lies a lack of imagination that, in a country of a billion people, has been unable to find one competent person to fit into Dixit’s shoes. Dr Manmohan Singh was unwilling or unable to take on powerful political and bureaucratic interests to fill a position that often needs to take on even powerful geo-political interests. Now for the turf battles between the three riders of India’s national security horse.