The Rise And Rise Of Ajit Doval
Nitin A Gokhale

The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), in its 25th year, continues to grow in size and importance. Led by India’s longest-serving National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, the NSCS, which directly functions as part of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), has been witness to several major changes in its role and responsibilities since 2015. That the NSCS has been further strengthened and expanded this week once again demonstrates the importance of Doval to the prime minister and India’s national security apparatus.

India Gets First Additional NSA

On Tuesday, Rajinder Khanna, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and one of the three Deputy National Security Advisers, was promoted to become India’s first Additional NSA. TV Ravichandran, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the 1990 batch and currently serving as No. 2 in the Intelligence Bureau (IB), will succeed Khanna in the post of Deputy NSA (Technology & Intelligence). Pavan Kapoor, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, also of the 1990 batch and currently Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), has been named Deputy NSA (Strategic Affairs) to succeed Vikram Misri who moves as India’s Foreign Secretary in mid-July. Pankaj Singh, an IPS officer and a former Director-General of the Border Security Force (BSF), will continue to serve as Deputy NSA (Internal Affairs).

Khanna’s elevation and appointment of relatively young Deputy NSAs (both Ravichandran and Kapoor are serving officers) signal both continuity and change. Having served as the Secretary to the NSCS since 2018, Khanna brings experience and stability in the functioning of the NSCS in assisting NSA Doval, whose scope and importance keeps growing with each passing year. Ravichandran and Kapoor are expected to bring in fresh ideas and thinking at a time when Doval is burdened with handling most of India’s critical relationships with Russia, the United States and China, besides being responsible for national intelligence agencies.

Modest Beginning

Until 2014, the NSCS was a small organisation, occupying part of the Sardar Patel Bhawan in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi with the NSA assisted by just one Deputy NSA. However, after the Narendra Modi government took office and Ajit Doval was named NSA, two more Deputy NSAs were appointed. The post of Military Adviser to the NSA, lying vacant between 2012 and 2018, was filled and another new vertical headed by a National Maritime Security Coordinator was also created. All the three Deputy NSAs were also entrusted with specific responsibilities. The Sardar Patel Bhawan is now fully an NSCS building serving as the nerve centre of India’s national security architecture.

NSCS’ Upward Journey

Most crucially, in August 2019, the NSCS was given legal and constitutional status after it was brought into the government’s Allocation of Business Rules. The amendment to the government business rules also specifically described the role of the NSA as “principal adviser on national security matters to the Prime Minister”. Under the amended rules, the NSCS was designated as the secretariat for the Prime Minister-led National Security Council or NSC, apart from assisting the NSA.

The amendment to the government’s rules of business meant that the NSA and the NSCS under him could generate Cabinet notes, access relevant Cabinet papers and be part of any inter-ministerial consultation just like any other government department. Since the new arrangement came into force, all relevant national security related cabinet notes, papers and proposals are routed through the NSCS, according to insiders in the know of the government’s functioning.

By virtue of being NSA, Doval who was reappointed by the prime minister for a third consecutive term in the rank of a Cabinet minister. He also heads the Strategic Planning Group or SPG that strives to identify long-term threats and challenges to India’s national security, and the newly-created Defence Planning Group that prioritises defence procurement and planning with the help of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a post created in 2020 to synergise the jointness and integration of the three armed forces.

First Published in Star News Global 0n 3rd July 2024.

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