(Jaishankar, Doval and the PM)
The Defence Planning Committee (DPC) as the apex institution to deal with national security was in the works for awhile with Modi’s original plan of splitting the NSA responsibilities between the external and internal and retaining the retired Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar for the external role, and Doval continuing with what he knows best as a police service veteran — intel and domestic security, being pushed out of contention by the man in place. Doval succeeded in convincing the Prime Minister over time that such a move would be detrimental to national interest. Jaishankar’s retirement was the time Doval used to ensure the erstwhile FS did not get back in, whence the formation of DPC to function in effect as National Security Council (NSC) which, incidentally, has met just once or twice so far during Modi’s tenure, but with the three armed services chiefs as members.
Ideally, Doval would have wanted to be to Modi what Brajesh Mishra was to Atal Bihari Vajpayee — the person actually running the government. Except Modi is not the retiring, Scotch-loving, Vajpayee and Doval doesn’t have the personal relations with Modi that Mishra had with Vajpayee. Where Mishra could begin issuing directives, orders and instructions from 7, Race Course Road ere the clock struck eight (most evenings), Doval, as he told a Manmohan Singh-era senior official, only awaits “decisions by the boss” so that he can implement them. Doval knows his place in the Modi universe as someone who takes orders, not gives them. Were he to begin to act like Mishra did, Doval would be (1) ignored by people like the Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, PK Mishra, who personally are far closer to Modi, and (2) out on his ears.
So, the new fangled DPC was a means of getting Jaishankar out of the picture, fobbing him off with the waiver of the one-year “cooling off” rule so he can join the Tata’s as head of “global operations”. According to Sanjay Ahluwalia, ex-IAS, writing his eminently readable newspaper column, this job will fetch Jaishankar a cool six crore rupees yearly. Jaishankar’s attributes meld well with Tata’s corporate plans, for instance, its decision to be the “strategic partner” to Lockheed Martin to produce the 1960s vintage F-16 in India — which project will require’s Jaishankar’s fervent pleadings with Modi to be realized. Who is to say that, in line with the Indian government’s penchant generally to give away a lot in return for little and Modi’s own leanings, Jaishankar won’t succeed?
It is a win-win arrangement for Modi as well, who mostly prized Jaishankar for his America connections, and now feels that he will be able to complement the BJP regime’s push of a US tilted foreign policy through private sector channels. Setting India up as Washington’s poodle the PM believes is the big foreign policy achievement he can go to the people with, come the next general elections. On this front, as in much else, he may have miscalculated because his policy of appeasing Washington has not worked a bit. Far from relenting, Trump has particularly targeted India — after all when does a punching back punch back? — as a prime subject for his bullying tactics. So no give whatsoever on the H1B/H-4 visa issues, on trade, or on transfer of advanced tech — military and civilian, and threat of sanctions via CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act) for buying arms from Russia. And when elections come around he will be hard put to indicate which among his many slogan-promises he has fulfilled, or to pacify an upset middle class who, other than the emergence of an illiberal state within, find their America dream (for their IIT and IIM-trained progeny) vaporizing without.
But, coming back to Doval’s nifty bureaucratic maneuver, what will DPC do exactly? And how? DPC would have had teeth had Doval also managed to get Modi to simply eliminate a whole bunch of agencies and organizations in the national security loop, entities like the Defence Acquisitions Council. But to centralize national security decision-making and render it more effective and efficient was never the intention behind establishing the DPC. All DPC does is add another layer to an already multi-layered heavy national security decision making apparatus of state, and will not do much, other than aggrandize Doval’s personal authority and power at the sub-PM level, assuming Modi allows any of it, other than as a bureaucratic contrivance to keep his NSA busy. For Doval it is yet another excuse for things not working, and for the boss’ decisions not getting implemented. So while aggrandizing bureaucratic turf he has distanced himself even more from accountability. Fancy babu footwork!
There may also be a still more intimate reason why Doval desires to be headman of DPC — it will enable him to lord it over the military chiefs. This is important because — and what a delicious insight from a former armyman, Colonel Ali Ahmed (Retd.), a Maratha officer like his father Lieutenant General Mohammad Zaki (Retd) of 19 Maratha Light Infantry — who speculates that Doval as a matriculate from the Ajmer Military School (formerly King George’s Military School), having failed or, perhaps, having never tried to enter the National Defence Academy as many graduating from KG Schools did, now sees a chance to play Commander-in-Chief, India! See Çol. Ahmed’s “A policewallah as proto chief of defence staff”, The Citizen, April 26, 2018, at http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/13644/A-Policewallah-As-Proto-Chief-of-Defence-Staff
[I should know — I passed out of King George’s, Belgaum, in December 1963 possibly around the same time Doval got out of KGS, Ajmer, and what a yearning there is deep down for things military that one’s cohort was part of and one has missed out on.]
There may, however, be a bigger Constitutional problem with the Defence Planning Committee, which’s pointed out by the reputed Mumbai lawyer, Niloufer Bhagwat. She wonders if the “National Security Advisory Board has any Statutory authority? That is [whether] this Advisory Board is embedded in Law / Constitution or is it a creation [by] Executive Fiat , as this has Constitutional implications as such a body cannot overrule STATUTORY or CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITIES and cannot overrule the service chiefs or preside over any committee of the Armed Forces even of junior officers as the Armed Forces are bound by the Statute and the Constitution. This is an important question which has arisen from the [establishment] of the Defense Planning Committee and has Constitutional Law and Administrative Law implications.”
Apparently, when Messrs Modi & Doval were creating the DPC they were not paying attention to Constitutional proprieties. I mean, did the DPC proposal pass muster with the Ministry of Law and Justice under Ravi Shankar Prasad? Depending on who wants to take the Modi govt to court on this issue, the DPC may be racing towards a legal limbo.