The Times of India has reported that the government of India is contemplating the setting up under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) of a coordination committee on all matters concerning security and intelligence. This committee will initially comprise the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Cabinet Secretary and the Union Home Secretary.
If this proposal is approved and comes into being, it could mean the retention of the co-ordination responsibility in the PMO, but with the NSA, who is part of the PMO, sharing that responsibility with the Cabinet Secretary and the Home Secretary, instead of exercising that responsibility exclusively as has been the practice till now.
The Task Force for the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus set up in 2000 under the chairmanship of Shri G.C.Saxena, former head of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the then Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, had recommended a two-tier mechanism for co-ordination-- the first consisting of all intelligence agencies and the second in respect of technical intelligence. It recommended that the Principal Secretary to the PM, in his concurrent capacity as the NSA, should head both. Shri Brajesh Mishra thus became the Co-ordination Czar of the then Government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Shri J.N.Dixit, who succeeded Shri Mishra as the NSA in 2004, and Shri M.K. Narayanan, who succeeded Shri Dixit after his death in January 2005, continued to exercise exclusively the responsibility for co-ordination with the Principal Secretary to the PM having no responsibility in the matter. While the intelligence agencies were not quite comfortable with Shri Dixit inheriting this role, they were quite happy with Shri Narayanan, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau and a former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, exercising this responsibility.
Ever since Shri P.Chidambaram took over as the home minister after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, there were indications that he was not happy over the marginalization of the role of his ministry in the co-ordination of the functioning of the intelligence community. It was apparent from his 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture at New Delhi on December 23, 2009, that he wanted his role and that of his ministry in matters relating to internal security management to be strengthened. His desire for a more participatory and active role for the MHA in the co-ordination of the functioning of the TECHINT agencies became clear during his intervention in the Lok Sabha at the time of the recent debate over allegations of phone-tapping by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO).
If Shri Chidambaram has his way it would dilute the role of the PMO in general and the new NSA, Shri Shiv Shankar Menon, in particular in the co-ordination of the functioning of the intelligence and security agencies. If the TOI report is correct, the PMO is trying to find a new mechanism under which the PMO will continue to exercise the co-ordination responsibilities through the NSA, while at the same time partly satisfying the desire of Shri Chidambaram by making the NSA share this responsibility with the Cabinet Secretary and the Home Secretary.
Before 2000, the responsibility for co-ordination was being exercised by the Secretaries’ Committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and consisting of the Home, Defence and Foreign Secretaries and the Principal Secretary to the PM. This collective responsibility for co-ordination, which was replaced in 2000 by the exclusive responsibility of the NSA, is now sought to be revived in a modified form under which the NSA will still be responsible for co-ordination but with his powers shared with the Home Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. Shri Menon will not be an intelligence and security Czar as his predecessors were.
Nor will Shri Chidambaram be the Co-ordination Czar. He will have a more important role than his predecessors since 2000, but not as important as he would have liked it to be.
This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article of December 24, 2009, titled The Internal Security Czar
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.