Cloak and dagger game in the corridors of power

Last Updated 24 January 2010, 15:55 IST

The turf-war between the old Intelligence Bureau (IB) hand and the home minister, eager to be in complete charge of security, has seemingly concluded, for now, in favour of the latter. As a fall-out, chief of Joint-Intelligence Task Force S D Pradhan, a Narayanan confidante, is understood to have offered to quit his post.
The new NSA, a diplomat, is expected to have a dominant say in the security aspects involving foreign affairs. Any dilution of the NDA’s area of influence may shift the balance of power in security issues from the prime minister’s office (PMO) to the home ministry. But a clarity on this is yet to emerge.

Narayanan, known to be close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, survived the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike impact even though he came under heavy criticism for failing to secure the commercial city. He offered to resign but continued in office. At that time, Maharasthra Home Minister R R Patil and Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh were asked to quit citing the ‘accountability factor’. Political observers are not categorical whether the conflict in Sri Lanka necessitated Narayanan’s presence.

All this while Chidambaram has been on the offensive to bring all the intelligence agencies under the administrative control of the home ministry and speaking about a complete integration of the security structure. Turning ‘pro-active’ after taking over from a rather sedate Shivaraj Patil, Chidambaram set up the National Investigation Agency to probe federal crimes, including terrorism, and outlined the frame-work for a national intelligence grid to make available real time information to the law enforcement agencies. The Cabinet Committee on Security has already taken a view on Natgrid with former head of Mahindra Special Services Group Raghu Raman as chief executive officer of the project.

The containing of the NSA’s area of operation and a new idiom of security as spelled out by Chidambaram were met with resistance from Narayanan who reportedly walked out in a huff  from a December 23 meeting on the occasion of IB’s centenary lecture in New Delhi where the home minister and IB Director Rajiv Mathur, among others, were on the dais.

Narayanan, who has now been checkmated and contained in the Kolkata Raj Bhavan, had not positively responded to Chidambaram’s ambitious plan to put in place a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) which is expected to be an umbrella organisation under the home ministry with representation from all security and intelligence agencies. Chidambaram apparently further chiselled the form and content of NCTC during his visit to the US last year.

Change dawns
The NCTC envisages bringing the National Technical Research Organisation, Joint Intelligence Committee, Aviation Research Centre and RAW under its command. In a way Narayanan is seen to be pitching for a status quo advantageous to him and Chidambaram is in no mood to compromise with ‘the routine’ that he thought was the ‘enemy of innovation’. He has sought more powers as minister accountable for internal security. The minister approached the prime minister who ‘appreciated’ and  sought a ‘wider-discussion’ on the NCTC issue.

A disconnect also surfaced during the handling of the Telangana issue with IB inputs apparently not portraying an accurate  picture of the volatile situation in the state. Chidambaram is confident that NCTC would be in place before December 31, 2010.
The home minister thinks NCTC would be an institutional frame work countering terrorism in an effective manner. A discussion paper is being prepared that would be placed before Cabinet Committee on security.

What would be the interface and relationship the proposed MHA controlled NCTC would have with  of National Security Council (NSC) and its executive arm — NSA under PMO — is a matter that will have to be sort out by the prime minister himself. Former NSA and principal secretary to prime minister during the NDA regime Brajesh Mishra recently advocated abolishing the post as he described it to be ‘unconstitutional’ and not accountable to parliament. Mishra, who had problems with his own Home Minister L K Advani, now agrees with Chidambaram in suggesting that the home ministry be bifurcated with a separate ministry exclusively focused on internal security and counter-terrorism.

There is, however, a view that the NSA is required to keep the prime minister abreast of security affairs. It is argued that since the prime minister has a cabinet secretary to deal with the bureaucracy, a Planning Commission to assess development and a PMO to monitor functioning of various ministries, an NSA should also be there to interface with the home ministry on complex national security affairs.
Narayanan as NSA was seen to be an intelligence czar, but that would not be the case with the new incumbent, Menon. With the NCTC under the home ministry preparing to undertake an over-arching role in national security, the NSA may, perhaps, step back and work out security planning in “a more diplomatic manner”. Menon may take a leaf out of Narayanan’s book, shipped to West Bengal for a five-year ‘constitutional comfort’.

(Published 24 January 2010, 15:55 IST)

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