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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 38 New Delhi September 8, 2018

Doval and Narayanan: Peas in a Time-warped Pod

Sunday 9 September 2018

by Seema Mustafa

The biggest reason for not re-employing retired bureaucrats, particularly after a spell out of power, is that they tend to remain stuck in time. In that if an official has retired in, say, 2000 and is re-employed in 2010, for him the ten intervening years have never happened. The good or the bad of the decade is not his reality—here one does not need to qualify ‘her’ as rarely are women bureaucrats ever brought back into gainful seats of power after retirement—as for him the clock stopped the year he retired.

This becomes particularly dangerous when it comes to Intelligence sleuths who held top positions in the Intelligence Bureau, retired, and then after a considerable hiatus found themselves back in power as National Security Advisors. A post that is far more important, far more powerful, and far more responsible for want of another word, than that held by them earlier.

Interestingly, both the Congress and BJP have done exactly that. Unlike, say, late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, under whom the NSA’s office was first introduced, and occupied by a former civil servant who spent his retired years as not just Vapayee’s confidant and friend, but also as a semi-politician heading the BJP’s External Affairs cell, Brajesh Mishra. Never having reached the top, and being from the Indian Foreign Service, Mishra brought some flexibility to his approach, and did not wield secretarial powers, learning on the job as it were. He went only with what many in the party called Vajpayee’s adventurism in foreign policy, giving it shape, be it the bus journey to Pakistan or the Agra summit.

The Congress, in its questionable wisdom, decided to re-employ M.K. Narayanan as the NSA a good decade and more after he had retired as the IB chief in 1991. He was appointed as the NSA by the Manmohan Singh Government after the sudden demise of the NSA, J.N. Dixit, in 2005. In his heydays Narayanan was recognised by his colleagues in the IB as a specialist on Maoists, and of course Muslims. So when he became the NSA the focus shifted to his areas of specialisation, with the tolerance and easy-going approach of Dixit being replaced by a hard line that found expression in ‘crackdowns’ regardless of the fact that the situation had changed on the ground insofar as the Naxal movement was concerned. However, in the crackdowns dossiers were opened on supposed ideologues who did never lead the masses, but did have intellectual differences with the government of the day on such issues. Some of them were questioned and harassed by the police, and a couple of them arrested. They have been out on bail since, with cases still pending in court, and the state’s allegations far from proven.

Muslim youth were also targeted and mass arrests on the basis of little more than suspicion were reported from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra at the time, with torture accompanying the arrests, as chronicled at the time by a few journalists, including this writer. These arrests, followed by acquittals years later, destroyed homes and lives but then Narayanan and the government he served were following their nose, and neither apologised nor compensated the families who were shunned and boycotted by society. Apart from the confinement and torture that the boys underwent.

Narayanan was a product of IB indoctrination of the time that focused on the Maoist movement that had its origins in West Bengal and was particularly effective in the 1960s into the 1970s, moved into Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. This was his specialisation with Muslims of course always a mainstay of IB indoctrination. And so he brought the two to the table, expanded dossiers, and started a crackdown that kept the minorities well in focus even as ultra-Left leaning intellectuals were brought under the UPA scanner as well.

Ajit Doval, while getting more liberal flak than his predecessor, has actually continued with the same obsession. For him too, Maoists and Muslims—that fit in even better with this government’s ideology—remain the focus of policy and action. As Doval too, a police officer like Narayanan in his initial years, became the IB Director a little more than a decade after Narayanan, who was also his mentor. In fact Doval had been educated in counter-insurgency operations by Narayanan. With Maoists and Muslims, and of course the insurgents in the North-East and Kashmir at the centre.

The arrests and targeting of Muslims by the intelligence wings and police continue under the supervision of Doval. This is not to speak of the political content that follows its own pattern of abuse and lynchings and attacks. Doval, however, has little to do with that but all to do with the arrests, for instance, of the activists currently in what can only be described as a ham-handed operation from even the point of view of the NSA.

Ham-handed for two reasons:

One, the raids and arrests were sudden not just for those targeted but also seemingly for the police, ill-prepared, seeming to follow political instructions rather than planned strategy. This was evident from the kind of raids, the non-evidence that even the courts found faulty, and linkages that have little to do with the arrests and more to do with propaganda at this stage. The very fact that a police officer is addressing a press conference while the courts are considering the arrests points to shoddy action, and politicisation of a kind not often demonstrated in this fashion.

Two, the Maoist movement is on the wane, with the Red Corridor now more of paper theory than reality. But in the time warp that seems to affect retired officials, the action against those who are basically armchair intellectuals—with courage and guts of course—smacks of dusty files being reopened. And mentor Narayanan’s notings being brought to pass. Maybe one is wrong in presuming this, but the fact does remain that the trajectory today seeks to borrow from a past that has ceased to exist a long time ago. Perhaps when Doval retired, and then was re-employed in the top government position after a ten-year hiatus.

The job of the NSA is all powerful, and given the nature of the UPA and now even more the NDA Government, concentrates power in the one individual. Like Narayanan (who of course was older) Doval is also on the wrong side of 70 while wielding power on a state that believes in authoritarianism and centralisation. That he is all-pervasive in his influence remains the buzz in the power corridors, low key in visibility but in control, as the old proverb goes, of all he perceives. The problem is that while rushing to follow a ‘shock-and-awe’ policy that the ruling establishment seems to want and need, Doval was unable to stitch up the loose ends that the fight back by the activists and their lawyers have so well exposed. The letter in Marathi, the police’s claim that these persons were “anti-fascist” (thereby recognising fascism as an acceptable ideology), the long explanations by the Pune Police chief and others, ridiculous links being drawn on the basis of evidence that public perception itself seems to be rejecting, an unverified letter of a plot to kill the PM—all point to a rushed job finding sanction in a political nod and files that stopped with time.


A senior journalist, the author currently edits

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