Home Opinion Ajit Doval was my batchmate, but his understanding of Constitution, civil society...

Ajit Doval was my batchmate, but his understanding of Constitution, civil society is flawed

Doval's statements reflect that he thinks India is still a colonial monarchy, where people are subjects, and not a democracy, where they are citizens.

File photo of NSA Ajit Doval | Kamal Singh | PTI

If my memory serves me right, the mighty Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor of the Union Cabinet Minister rank and I, took the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India on the same day — 3/4 July 1968 — at the salubrious campus of the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie. On that day, Doval entered the Indian Police Service and me the Indian Administrative Service, both All India Services covenanted in Article 312 of the Constitution. As I have written earlier, standing by one’s oath is a matter of honour. When I found it difficult to adhere to my oath, I bowed out of IAS way back in 1985 and, technically, was no longer bound by the oath. But Doval today is a top civil leader in the country for whom the oath still holds good.

Actually, it was the second time I was taking the oath, the first being my commissioning in the Indian Army on the Republic Day of 1964: “I, …. do swear in the name of God that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and that I will honestly and faithfully serve in the regular Army of the Union of India and go wherever ordered by land, sea or air, and that I will observe and obey all commands of the President of the Union of India and the commands of any officer set over me even to the peril of my life.”

I did stand by this oath and, during the short span that I was in the olive-green uniform, participated in all three operations, which an Infantry Officer would have done in his entire career — war in the Thar desert (1965), counter-insurgency in the Nagaland jungles and aid to civil authority in Assam and Tamil Nadu plains. In the first we treated the enemy as the enemy; in the second, we dealt with the underground Nagas as misguided hostiles, and in the third, we cherished civil society as our own that needed to be protected. Never could we imagine this bizarre doctrine: “The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth-generation warfare, is the civil society.”

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Doval’s three-pronged military philosophy

A few months before Doval became NSA, he came out with this profound philosophy: “You know, we engage [one’s] enemy in three modes. One is a defensive mode. That is, you see what the chaukidars and chaprassies do, i.e., to prevent somebody from coming in. One is defensive-offensive. To defend ourselves, we go to the place from where the offence is coming. We are now in defensive mode…. The last mode is called offensive mode.”

The dictum “in the game of power, the ultimate justice lies with the one who is strong,” was the hallmark of Doval’s ‘military doctrine’ to be applied to Kashmir. In a Scroll.in article, social activist and author Harsh Mander said that “under this doctrine, no weapon or strategy of offence is out of bounds – bullets, pellet guns, human shields – even if these outrage international and national legal and moral codes. Victory can only be assured by military might. The only objective is to win by any means. Even if blood flows, if children are felled or blinded, if mothers weep, if liberals are outraged, if people do not vote — it does not matter. The State has to prevail by more and more military force, even over its own people.”

Instead of such heady concoctions, national security should be dealt with under a well-thought-of and defined doctrine — a set of national principles. It must act as ‘a statement of government policy’ that takes into account social, economic and political spheres of the country like national security threats, military, public consensus, demands for development, etc. Such documents must guide leaders to make appropriate domestic and foreign policy decisions. Sadly, India has no such doctrine.

Though there is a National Security Council, presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Strategic Policy Group, and the National Security Advisory Board, the NSA is the kingpin of India’s security structure. The office is not backed by any legislative provisions nor has parliamentary sanctions. So, there is a lot of power being exercised by this office without any oversight or responsibility. Only the concerned ministers and secretaries remain responsible and answerable to Parliament either in Committees (secretaries) or the House (ministers). It’s because of this defect and the concomitant decline of formal arrangements that the structure appears to be ad hoc, arbitrary and, almost always, autocratic. Since there is no policy or doctrine to adhere to, the NSA can propound whatever he wants and call it national security. This is bizarre and not in consonance with democratic principles.

According to eminent lawyer AG Noorani, one of the key pillars of the Doval doctrine is “the irrelevance of morality”. This is what he wrote: “Doval sought to explain the dilemma one faces between ‘individual morality’ and the ‘value system of the state’. The state is necessary. ‘If it is necessary, protecting itself will be its supreme role. Individual morality cannot be inflicted on the larger interest of society. The nation will have to take recourse to all means to protect itself. And in this, it cannot afford to subjugate what is in its long-term interest.”

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A new civil society doctrine

It is in this ‘morality’ compass that Doval’s new civil society doctrine needs to be looked at. Addressing the fresh police officers during the passing-out parade at the Police Academy in Hyderabad on 11 November, he said: “The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth-generation warfare, is the civil society. Wars have ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving their political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable and, at the same time, there is an uncertainty about their outcomes. But it is the civil society, that can be subverted, that can be suborned, that can be divided, that can be manipulated, to hurt the interests of a nation. And you are there to see that they stand fully protected.” And he then dropped a rare pearl of wisdom: “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 these ballot boxes.” For Doval, the State is paramount and not the people.

These statements clearly mean that Doval has a different understanding of the Constitution, democracy and civil society. He seems to think that India is still a colonial monarchy, where people are subjects, and not a democracy wherein, they are citizens. Our Constitution opens with the words “We the People” and democracy is defined as a society in which the citizens are sovereign and command the State. There is an ocean of difference between ‘subject’ and ‘citizen.’ ‘Subject’ is one who is placed under the authority or control of a monarch or government, whereas ‘citizen’ is one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman. While it is the duty of a ‘subject’ to obey the government, it is the right of a ‘citizen’ to command the State because it is them who form that government by exercising the electoral franchise. In short, democracy in essence is ‘people’s power’ and not ‘State power.’

There is a lot of confusion as to the definition of ‘civil society’. The World Bank has attempted one: “Civil society… refers to a wide array of organizations: community groups, non-governmental organizations, labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations.” In my view, this is not complete because these are only the ‘elements’ of civil society like Parliament and State legislatures described as the ‘elements’ of the electorate.

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NSAs before Doval

The real definition of civil society would be the entire people of India, who have the Constitutional privilege of claiming fundamental rights (Articles 32 and 226) except those in the Armed Forces, whose constitutional rights are restricted. Incidentally, the millions of protesting farmers, who forced the repeal of the farm laws, are all a part of civil society. How then, can Doval ask the young police officers to consider “We the People” as the enemy and wage war against them?

Ajit Doval was appointed as the NSA by PM Modi in 2014. A former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, he is known to be one of PM Modi’s “closest confidantes” according to Mander, who claims that after his retirement, he headed the Vivekananda Foundation, which has a strong affiliation Hindutva ideology, and has become one of the main recruiting grounds for senior appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office.  However, historically, this role has been played by more ‘neutral’ individuals. The position of National Security Advisor of India was created by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government back in 1998. Brijesh Mishra, of the Indian Foreign Service who served as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, was the first NSA. In 2004, when Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, the NSA office was separated into ‘foreign’ and ‘internal’ with two NSAs — former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit and former Director, IB M.K. Narayanan — heading them respectively. After the death of Dixit in 2005, the office was again fused and Narayanan became the full-time NSA. He was then succeeded by former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon in 2010.

As would be seen among Doval’s predecessors, three were diplomats and one was a policeman. Diplomats had their own style and the policeman was mature and they functioned in an independent manner. None of them were loyal to any polarising ideology and a mindset of considering dissenters as ‘enemies.’ It would be good if, even at this late stage, Doval follows the footpath of his predecessors. If he has any special ‘fourth-generation warfare’ skills, he better apply them against the big guns ‘occupying’ territories within India, instead of targeting the civil society.

M.G. Devasahayam is a retired IAS officer and chairman of People-First. He also served in the Indian Army. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)