Ajit Doval IPS address

With advisers like these: Ajit Doval's disregard for letter and spirit of Constitution

Print edition : December 31, 2021

NSA Ajit Kumar Doval at the passing out parade of IPS probationers, in Hyderabad on November 12. Photo: Youtube Screengrab/Doordarshan

Aruna Roy, the social activist, in Mangaluru on September 17, 2019. Photo: H.S. MANJUNATH

At a tribute to CRPF personnel martyred in the Pulwama attack in Kashmir, in Bengaluru on February 15, 2019. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

With utter disregard for the letter and spirit of the Constitution, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval shocks civil society by harping on “fourth generation warfare” and belittling the commitment of dedicated social activists in his address to new IPS officers.

In order to highlight national security threats to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Kumar Doval, while addressing Indian Police Service (IPS) probationers at their passing out parade, drew their attention to the “frontiers of fourth generation warfare” in civil society, which could be “subverted, suborned, divided and manipulated” by the enemies of the nation. The parade was held at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, on November 11, 2021. At this important national function, Doval did not make any reference to the Constitution of India, the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in it, or the Oath of Office that binds entrants to the all-India services to work for the poor and the underprivileged.

Aruna Roy, the eminent social activist, Magsaysay Award winner and author of The RTI Story: Power to the People, 2018, said that Doval failed to define his terms and asked what gave him the authority to declare a “fourth generation war” on our own people. According to her, he was hurting the spirit of the Constitution and questioning the commitment of dedicated social activists.

His social theory legitimised the efforts of the political executive and the private sector as nation-building and painted adversarial advocacy by organised citizens’ groups of civil society as undermining development and nationalism.

She quoted Doval as saying: “The quintessence of democracy does not lie in the ballot box. It lies in the laws which are made by the people who are elected through the ballot box. And the political ideology of the elected executive thus becomes the defining entity for the rule of law.”

Also read: Between the law and the lawless

Ajit Doval, who has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NSA since 2014, presides over all the security services in the country.

In her observations, Aruna Roy implied that the NSA has certain obligations to the Constitution of India as a leading servant of the state in the sphere of national security which cannot be ignored when he addresses newly recruited IPS officers.

NSA’s obligations

The primary duty of these officers is to devote their attention to the tasks of crime prevention and public order management under the criminal laws and procedures of the land. The NSA needs to speak within the framework of the Constitution and the spirit of service to the people that it embodies.

The NSA’s preoccupation with “fourth generation warfare” in civil society may be labelled as part of the ‘Doval doctrine’, which first came to light in the wake of the January 2016 terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase in Punjab near the Pakistan border.

A Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was permitted to visit Pathankot to study the investigation of the case, reported that India had not only failed to prove the Pakistani origin of the terrorists but also that the entire event had been fabricated by India to defame Pakistan as a terrorist country.

The NSA did not respond to these statements. It remains unknown why he remained silent and who was responsible for the Pathankot operation.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs criticised India’s counterterrorism apparatus for having failed to prevent the Pathankot attack despite having prior “concrete and credible intelligence” from the Superintendent of Police (S.P.) of Pathankot, who was abducted and later released.

The committee raised questions on the “very questionable and suspicious” role of the Punjab police in not appreciating the national security implications of the abduction and release of the S.P. and implied that they were complicit in the terrorist attack. The committee also demanded an examination of the role of the ‘narcotics syndicates’ active in Punjab’s border regions and their links with terrorists.

Also read: The Doval doctrine

Shashikant Sharma, a former Director General of Police of Punjab, who is a crusader against the drug-trafficker-politician nexus, told Outlook in an interview in 2016 that a “sleeper cell” of the terror groups was involved in the Pathankot attack. India’s national security establishment had failed to examine the role of the networks involved in drugs- and arms trafficking and money laundering in the border areas of Punjab and Pakistan, which called for a cooperative approach between Indian and Pakistani security establishments.

Tenets of Doval doctrine

Doval is a well-known hawkish thinker, activist and speaker and is popular in the predominantly right-wing middle-class social circles in India. He delineated his approach to Pakistani terrorism in the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture, 2014, and the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture, 2015.

Pakistani terrorism against India, he said, was a tactic to achieve ideological and political advantages. The enemy must be engaged at three levels: defensive, defensive-offensive and offensive modes. The often-resorted-to defensive mode is ineffective and irrelevant. The “offensive-defensive mode” requires going into Pakistan and tackling the problem where it originates.

To make his idea clear, Doval used the famous phrase: “You may do one Mumbai; you may lose Balochistan.”

This seemed to be crux of the Doval doctrine. Either Pakistan gives up terrorism against India as a state policy or India would let it “bleed with the Taliban”.

According to the doctrine, terrorist organisations could be bought with money, weapons and manpower. Or a “paradigm shift” should occur with the use of high technology and intelligence-driven covert operations. Using a boxing terminology, it deplores the Indian tendency to punch below its weight. It must punch not below or above its weight but improve its weight to hit proportionately. According to the doctrine, “individual morality should not be imposed on the larger interest of the state”. The values of the state are above the values of individual.

The Doval doctrine approved of the covert operations conducted by former Army chief General V.K. Singh, who set up the Technical Support Division and carried out several “operations” in Balochistan in Pakistan in 2015. Baloch dissident leaders were hosted in Delhi and the Baloch Liberation Organisation (BLO) has existed in Delhi since 2009.

Aggressive actions against Pakistan included cancellation of the Foreign Secretaries’ meet schedule for August 18, 2014, and the NSAs’ meet on August 22, 2015.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the advice of the NSA, has adopted a hard line on Pakistan and refrained from commenting on the peace efforts made by his predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in backchannel diplomacy with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He also ignored the four-point formula evolved to settle the Kashmir dispute.

The NSA adopted a hard line on India’s border dispute with China and said at the Munich Security Conference in New Delhi in 2014 that “India would not compromise on its territorial interests”, when the very purpose of the meetings of the Special Representatives of the two countries was to seek a compromise.

China’s reservations were reported in the media in 2014.

Also read: History of betrayals

Modi visited China in May 2015 but confined himself to asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to reconsider China’s received positions on the issues with India. Brajesh Mishra, who was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NSA and special representative for border talks with China, had made progress in his talks with his Chinese counterpart and had been hopeful of reaching positive results.

The Doval doctrine is seen as being bereft of morality, extremist, freed from calculation or calibration, and reliant on military force. The growing military concord between India and the United States directed against China would damage the prospects for peace in South Asia. While the United Kingdom’s intelligence chiefs recently expressed the need for transparency, no such desire has been expressed by intelligence authorities in India.

B.N. Mullik, who, as Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), was India’s most powerful intelligence officer under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, played a key role on issues such as Kashmir and China. But he was not made a Cabinet Minister. Modi, however, made Doval, who retired as I.B. Director, a Cabinet Minister and NSA.

A top intelligence official is often not accountable in his secret activities. Historically, the I.B. has lacked a legal framework and charter of duties. In 1978, the L.P. Singh Committee made several recommendations to improve the I.B.’s functioning but it did not succeed in empowering the I.B. with a legal framework and charter of duties. Some in India hold that any attempt to provide a legal framework to an intelligence agency would demoralise it.

However, a Cabinet Minister is accountable. An official cannot be both an intelligence officer and a Cabinet Minister. Doval is often described as one of the two deputy Prime Ministers of India. His role has become increasingly more important in Indian politics and deserves close watching.

K.S. Subramanian is a former IPS officer and strategic analyst.

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