New Delhi: Upset with how the Hindu-Muslim riots in Northeast Delhi overshadowed the visit of US President Donald Trump to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resorted to the unprecedented move of sending National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to the district to ensure the law is enforced and peace returns, ThePrint has learnt.
Doval made two trips to the district since Tuesday evening, visiting the local police station, walking through the grimy lanes and bylanes, listening to scared residents and assuring them of security — all under the glare of television cameras.
His intervention is seen as extremely unusual, as it is not exactly the job of the NSA to micromanage law enforcement and become the face of the government, even in a riot-torn corner of the national capital where 25 people were killed over four days.
Doval’s highly-publicised visits were all the more glaring as the Union home ministry under Amit Shah is responsible for law enforcement in the capital, and the Delhi Police reports to Shah.
Moreover, Shah, who has been criticised for his polarising speeches in connection with the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act during the Delhi election campaign, is also known to have taken firm control of the security establishment in the central government after becoming home minister last year.
The security establishment was largely controlled by Doval in the first term of the Modi government.
Doval is an operations man
The prime minister, sources told ThePrint, was particularly unhappy that the violence flared just a day after Trump was accorded a gala reception in Gujarat by tens of thousands of people.
“It was bad optics. The PM was not happy with the way the media, including the foreign media, clubbed Trump’s visit with the violence on the city streets. It was hugely damaging,” one highly-placed government source said.
Modi saw Doval as the right person to be given charge for more than one reason, the source said.
A 1968-batch Kerala cadre Indian Police Service officer, Doval retired as director of the Intelligence Bureau. Considered to be close to Modi, he was appointed NSA in 2014, soon after the BJP came to power.
The riots exposed the Delhi Police, and it was seen to be rudderless, even though it had a commissioner in Amulya Patnaik who was on a one-month extension after retirement.
“No one seemed to be in charge. It was one of the reasons the PM instructed that Doval should be brought in,” the source said.
It was also at this juncture Tuesday that S.N. Srivastava was appointed special commissioner of Delhi Police.
Another reason why the NSA was deputed to tackle a Hindu-Muslim riot was because it was thought that unlike Doval, Shah could not have moved around freely in the riot-affected areas, reaching out to Muslims.
“Doval is an operations man and is adept in handling such situations. He was the government’s pointsperson in Kashmir too, talking to locals when the state was witnessing an indefinite shutdown after Article 370 was scrapped,” said a second source.
Not a snub to Shah
Although the move to depute Doval has sparked talk of it being a snub to Shah, the sources sought to dismiss such an interpretation.
“There is no iota of truth in that. The PM wanted some credible face from the government to be in charge of the situation on the ground, and Doval was seen as the right fit,” said one of the sources quoted earlier.
Although Doval was on the ground, Shah was kept in the loop, the source said. “Doval went to meet Shah soon after he visited the riot-affected area Wednesday to brief him about the situation,” the source said.
The NSA, the second source said, was working in close tandem with both the PM and Shah, giving his inputs on an hourly basis since 25 February.
Shah had held over a dozen meetings with senior security and Intelligence Bureau officials. He also reviewed the situation with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. According to a source in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Doval was present in the “security review” meeting that was called by Shah Tuesday evening.
In accordance with what was discussed in the meeting, the NSA visited the police Deputy Commissioner’s office in Seelampur, the source said.
With additional inputs by Snehesh Alex Philip