There has historically been rivalry between India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Although M K Narayanan was a former head of IB, relations between him, when he was National Security Adviser (NSA), and RAW were productive. His intellect and style of functioning lent well to efficiency. The same does not appear to be the case with Ajit Doval, another previous boss of IB, as NSA.
Under the Narendra Modi dispensation, the Indian government’s aspiration is synonymous with Hindutva. In effect, India’s national interests are being compromised by a theocratic dogma. Indeed, operations of intelligence agencies have an undertone of succumbing to political diktat, with recommendations from Delhi to intelligence outposts being to employ services of the overseas Hindutva brigade, ignoring its traditional network.
A few years ago, a senior RAW officer posted in London would complain bitterly about the alleged non-co-operation of British intelligence agencies vis-a-vis the latter’s intercepts on Pakistan to dossiers on anti-India Sikhs in Britain. His successors sound less resentful. But RAW, like several other departments and Indian institutions, has been imposed with Hinduisation and thereby nepotism to its detriment.
RAW today has agents in almost every important embassy or high commission of India. While possession and the use of technology has grown in criticality over the years, experts insist there’s still nothing to match human talent. In effect, not just the agents assigned to foreign countries, but the network of local informers and operators they create is crucial to its efficiency. In other words, the quality of those who feed into the system, or carry out assignments is vital and their selection has to be determined on merit and performance, not any other consideration.
In the United Kingdom, the editorial control of a struggling satellite television channel, aligned to India, has effectively been ceded to the RSS. Therefore, what is being transmitted by it is a distortion of India’s image and a propagation of religiosity.
Beijing has, therefore, stepped up its ambitions to encircle India. In recent years, it held sway in the Maldives. Now it remains to be seen if after the recent election, the islands will revert to greater proximity to India. All in all, Modi’s handling of India’s neighbourhood has become a huge headache for RAW.
Concurrently, to India’s discomfort, joint demonstrations – said to be orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - by Pakistanis and Sikhs on Kashmir and Khalistan occur fairly often outside the Indian high commission in London. They are more often than not a motley gathering, though from an Indian perspective a nuisance. There are some times counter-demonstrations. Hindu zealots engaged in such protests do not seem to be sufficiently knowledgeable or enthusiastic about challenges to India’s secular integrity. Their exuberance is restricted to upholding either a misguided concept of Hinduism, or a parochial view from the standpoint of the state they originate from. They cut a sorry figure.
A Gujarati Hindu lady, roped in to protest against a Khalistan referendum rally at Trafalgar Square, when asked what her grouse, replied she didn’t know. That she had come along because she was asked to by some friends. Hitherto, pro-India Sikhs – who constitute the vast majority in this community in the United Kingdom - were entrusted to tackle Khalistanis; and had in fact got the better of them. Now with Khalistani militancy, whether in Britain, Canada and other countries, resurfacing, a Hindutva response - as opposed to a united Indian riposte - is making little impact.
Nearer Indian shores is the case of Balochistan. In 1947, the then Khan of Kalat, ruler of the region, approached Jawaharlal Nehru to endorse its independence from Pakistan. The latter declined on the grounds that by doing so, India would jeopardise the integration of Indian princely states into the Indian Union. Today, too, India’s need to involve itself in Balochi separatism is debatable. What has India to gain, other than provide pinpricks to Pakistan? It is not cost-effective if it doesn’t significantly debilitate Pakistan.
The Pakistani Army and ISI’s interference in India, especially Kashmir, is well-documented. Modi yelling solidarity with Baloch nationalists from the ramparts of the Red Fort was counterproductive as it gave Islamabad ammunition to counter-accuse India of meddling in its affairs. Indeed, if the sordid saga of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s capture by Pakistan and the awkwardness created transpires to be a consequence of a move by Modi and his henchman Doval rather than RAW, the duo have a lot to answer for.
Modi’s ridiculous policy towards Pakistan and his abject failure in Kashmir have exerted the kind of pressure on RAW it hasn’t endured since the late 1980s and the 1990s. This was clearly avoidable. Similarly, the deterioration in ties with China and events like Doklam have rendered RAW hard-pressed on the northern front as well.
Worse has, in fact, ensued. The special relationship with Nepal is in tatters, thanks as much to Modi acting as a blockading big brother as Nepali Communists’ inclination towards China. While it is really the responsibility of Indian diplomats to repair the rift, RAW’s task is also cut out as a result.
The election of Maithripala Sirisena as Sri Lanka’s president in 2015 at the expense of the pro-China Mahinda Rajapaksa was a welcome development for India. But reports, sourced to jingoists in Delhi, that RAW had helped pull off the victory embarrassed the winner and constrained him to be cautious with India. His recent move of sacking his pro-India prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, and replacing him with his previous bete noire Rajapaksa, worried India even more. The Sri Lankan situation has now descended to a cocktail of a constitutional crisis and a farce, with Sirisena controversially dissolving parliament and Rajapaksa deserting him. Again, while it is for mandarins belonging to Ministry of External Affairs to regain the goodwill of the powers-that-be in Colombo, the importance of RAW’s parallel efforts cannot be underestimated.
South Asia, barring Pakistan, was hitherto granted as being largely in India’s sphere of influence. An assertive China, led by President XI Jinping, though, has changed the matrix; and indulged in pincer moves to elbow India out of the position it has enjoyed. In fact, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh succeeded in containing Jinping’s aggressive intent, Modi has patently been unpersuasive. Beijing has, therefore, stepped up its ambitions to encircle India. In recent years, it held sway in the Maldives. Now it remains to be seen if after the recent election, the islands will revert to greater proximity to India. All in all, Modi’s handling of India’s neighbourhood has become a huge headache for RAW.