ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Doval Scorecard

National Security in the Election Year

As the ruling party at the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party, contemplates the forthcoming national elections, its record on national security warrants a review. The key player in crafting and implementing its national security strategy has been National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. An examination of Doval’s record over the past four years reveals that his principal contribution has been in facilitating national security interests to be held hostage to the electoral calculus of the Narendra Modi–Amit Shah combine.

On his nomination as National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval had acquired a larger-than-life image. Hagiographical accounts of his derring-do as an intelligence officer in all of India’s national security predicaments since the 1971 war—including Mizoram, Punjab, Pakistan, Kashmir and Kandahar—have featured him in a stellar role (Gokhale 2014). He remained indefatigable in retirement as founding head of the Vivekananda International Foundation, where his think tank provided respectability to the penetration of cultural nationalism into the strategic discourse (Donthi 2017). While at it, he comprehensively stalled any national security initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance—such as its last gasp in reaching out to Pakistan in 2013—by leading Delhi’s strategic community in warning against any such initiative (Vivekananda International Foundation 2013). By early 2014, he had staked a claim, laid out in lectures across the country, on heading the national security apparatus; the more (in)famous claim being during a lecture in which he warned that Pakistan stood to lose Baluchistan if another attack like the 26/11 attack in Mumbai were to happen (The Fearless Indian 2014). It was not a surprise then that one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s very first decisions on reaching 7, Race Course Road, was to appoint Doval as the NSA.

As the NSA, Doval hit the ground running. Modi’s foreign policy coup of bringing together the heads of neighbouring countries, Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif among them, is attributed to him. It did not take long for criticism to catch up with him. Critics had it that he was—true to his reputation—tactically agile, but strategically untested. Unfortunately for him, the skill set that goes with a proactive intelligence profile, does not necessarily lend itself to a sound performance at the strategic level (Ahmed 2015). For instance, though Sharif’s presence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt presaged an opening up to Pakistan, by the end of the season, the follow-on foreign secretary-level talks were called off. Instances of smart about-turns continued. Barely had Modi landed back in India from visiting Sharif at his Raiwind farmhouse on Christmas eve in 2015, the possibilities of the peace process resuming after this outreach were spiked yet again a week later, with India referencing a terrorist attack on the Pathankot airfield.

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Updated On : 29th May, 2018
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