Ajit Doval’s Speech is Ironic, Given His Govt’s Take on CBI Row
It would be difficult to take issue with any of the themes that National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval took up in his Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture on Thursday, 25 October. The highly cerebral Doval, who has a reputation for operational efficiency, declared:
India needs a strong, stable and decisive government for the next decade; weak coalitions will not do.
India cannot be a soft power because it needs to take hard decisions.
India needs to have a big, globally competitive economy and it can be that only if it is technologically ahead.
Populism is bad and against the larger national interest.
Indian private sector companies should promote India’s strategic interests.
Rule of law is extremely important and the temptation to undermine it should be resisted.
Hard power and large armies don’t win battles’ technological superiority does.
Ironically, his speech came on the same day when the government made short work of the rule of law and its intelligence officers were caught, apparently while maintaining surveillance over the head of the CBI, who had been replaced in highly questionable circumstances the night before.
Govt Response to CBI Row Has Been Dodgy
In 2014, for the first time in 30 years, India did get a government that was not a coalition. Its leader had a reputation for decisiveness and his authority over the government and the BJP was untrammeled. As a bonus, crude oil prices, a critical factor for the Indian economy, had halved over the previous year and remained low till 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a corruption-free government, a government that would be decisive and push for market-friendly reforms. The reality we have just witnessed is of a government that was paralysed as the number one and number two in its premier investigation agency accused each other of corruption. The government response has been dodgy, to say the least.
As for decisiveness, yes, Modi was decisive, but he brought on the demonetization, one of the greatest policy blunders of recent times. This was compounded by the shoddy roll out of the GST. There has been reform in a number of areas like taxes, bankruptcy, etc. But none have been decisive in giving the economy the fillip it needs.
As for a technologically advanced military, ready to fight fourth-generation contact-less wars, the record of the government is less than shoddy. The Modi government has seriously underfunded the armed forces.
India’s defence budget is just 1.57 percent of the GDP, the lowest since the disastrous China war of 1962. But this is not the issue, what is more germane is the fact that all three Services have been seriously short-changed when it comes to capital outlays which are used to buy new equipment.
In the case of the army, the allocation of Rs 21,338 crore was not even sufficient to meet the committed payments of Rs 29,033 crore for past contracts. It is this new equipment that will ready the military to fight the kind of wars that Doval was referring to, and as of now nothing is happening on that front except talk.
Of course, blame for many of these things cannot be laid on Doval. A lot of the really important mis-steps must be blamed on the prime minister himself, or his finance minister.
As it is, there is a tendency to over-state Doval’s authority over the government. Though, it cannot be denied that he has gained unprecedented responsibilities in comparison to his predecessors, barring Brajesh Mishra, who was also Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.
As NSA, in any case, he supervises the intelligence agencies, is the points man for the China and Pakistan policy, and heads the executive council of the nuclear command authority.
Doval Must Accept Responsibility for His ‘Ill-Conceived’ Strategies
Earlier this year, the government, in its wisdom, decided to make him the chair of the Defence Planning Committee, a highly unusual arrangement that has sought to provide a measure of integration over India’s stove-piped and scattered defence management system.
Its not clear, as of now, as to whether this innovation will yield results, or that it is merely an effort to brush the major problems afflicting our defence system under the carpet.
Doval has carried out significant changes in the National Security Council system that he heads and expanded its remit. The latter fact testified to by its hugely expanded budget and the National Security Council Secretariat’s take over of the entire Sardar Patel Bhavan in Parliament Street, where it had occupied some half the space till recently.
Doval’s supporters will argue that we laymen do not know the secret and internal changes that he has affected. That is true. But we are witness to the many public failures of the government on the security front.
Again, it would not be right to lay it all on Doval’s head. But in some instances, he must accept responsibility for substandard operations and ill-conceived strategies.
In the first category, it is difficult to forget the poor response to the Pathankot attack. Despite being forewarned, Doval, who was personally in-charge of the operation, botched the Indian response.
Then, his hard-line strategy in Jammu & Kashmir is far from yielding a dividend and his policy has led to increased tensions. As for China, after a policy of irritating Beijing by promoting the exiled Tibetans and Uighurs, even while belabouring it for not backing India’s case in the NSG or in proscribing Masood Azhar, Doval’s boss, Prime Minister Modi, decided that discretion was the better part of valour and has smoked the peace pipe with Xi Jinping in Wuhan.
Analysing Doval’s record is important for getting a measure of the importance of what he said in his lecture on Thursday.
Certainly, India needs a strong, stable and decisive government, a government that promotes business and technology acquisition and hews to the rule of law. But it also needs a government that is competent.
The government Doval has worked for, unfortunately, has not quite displayed an ability to execute policy effectively.