The Doval Doctrine and the floating goalpost of 'national security'

Are developments in Manipur a threat to national security? Not really, since the NSA is yet to say so. Ajit Doval, who famously ate biryani on the streets of Srinagar, is yet to visit Manipur

National security advisor Ajit Doval shares food with some locals in Srinagar in 2019
National security advisor Ajit Doval shares food with some locals in Srinagar in 2019

Aakar Patel

National security has been described as the "ability of a state to cater for the protection and defence of its citizenry” and as a "country's ability to protect itself from the threat of violence or attack". 

To understand New India’s national security doctrine, one has to look at what is called the Doval Doctrine.

This is not a written text and has never been articulated in a book. Its contents I will briefly describe at the end, but it has been expressed in a video.

In a video, because India does not have a thinker-intellectual national security advisor in the Henry Kissinger mould, but 'a man of action and the field'. Ajit Doval did not waste his time on thesis and dissertation; he got down to it. 

In a lampooning profile of our NSA, A.G. Noorani wrote: 'Doval does not hesitate to roll up his sleeves and get into action. He went to Iraq on a rescue mission for Indians taken hostage by the Islamic State; organised the Indian Army’s “hot pursuit” into Myanmar and then went over to smoothen ruffled feathers; phoned Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi and instructed his counterpart in Islamabad to berate Pakistan for the firings on the LoC; supervised, astonishingly, the arrangements for crowd control at the funeral of Yakub Memon in Mumbai; questioned the Delhi Police on the Uber cab rape case; and much else. This is a real man of action, the kind of whom we have never seen before.' 

NSA Ajit Doval at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Memorial Lecture 2023, on 17 June 2023 in New Delhi (Photo: Getty Images)
NSA Ajit Doval at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Memorial Lecture 2023, on 17 June 2023 in New Delhi (Photo: Getty Images)

The piece was published in November 2015.

In the seven years since, Doval has been on other adventures, including personally evacuating the Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin, which was shamefully and wrongly accused by the government of being the culprit for Covid in India.

He also chose to be photographed having biryani on the streets of Kashmir to signal normalcy.

Like others in his dispensation, he likes to be seen in the media as being effective. He has not been to Manipur yet, though one is not sure if that is the case, because he famously also claims to be a master of disguise. 

The broad point is this: When the boss takes all the credit, why should the minion rush to take the blame when a disaster unfolds? If this is not “catering for the protection and defence of citizenry”, then nothing is. 

Also, when all decisions are taken in centralised fashion and then announced as unprecedented and historic occasions, why should their fallout accrue to juniors? That is likely why the great spy of our time has no contribution to one of the most serious threats as it plays out. 

Recent reports of his activities include the headlines 'Days after Wagner mutiny, Russian Security Council Secretary calls National Security Adviser Ajit Doval' from 29 June and 'NSA Ajit Doval meets top leadership of Oman, discusses way to boost security ties' from 26 June.

On 17 June at a meeting, he revealed his vast knowledge as a historian to proclaim, as a headline put it, that 'India would not have been partitioned if Netaji Subhas Bose was there'. 

Happily for him, there are no headlines about his absence from more pressing matters, as there is no accountability for failure in our parts and especially in this administration. He can carry on as if Manipur were not part of his responsibility to deliver, as the corporates put it, key result areas. 

This dereliction of duty may be seen elsewhere too.

In 2018, the national security advisory was put in charge of the Defence Planning Committee. This was to be chaired by Doval and include the foreign secretary, defence secretary, chief of defence staff, and three service chiefs and secretaries of the ministry of finance.

It had the enormous tasks of looking after "national defence and security priorities, foreign policy imperatives, operational directives and associated requirements, relevant strategic and security-related doctrines, defence acquisition and infrastructure development plans, national security strategy, strategic defence review and doctrines, international defence engagement strategy", and so on. 

It met once, on 3 May 2018, and does not appear to have met after that. It has now been five years. The lack of interest may have been intensified after Ladakh, because it is Pakistan and Muslims that are Doval's primary obsessions.

If there is a thread of continuity to his actions, as Noorani described them, it can be understood through this prism.  

The Doval Doctrine says that terrorism is the national security threat and Pakistan is the primary enemy.

The government accepted this to be untrue after the events of 2020. Before Galwan, of the army’s 38 divisions, 12 faced China, while 25 divisions were deployed on the India–Pakistan border, with one division in reserve. After the reassignment, 16 divisions face China.

What is the reason for the previous position and what was the reason for the change? We do not know, though we might if Doval were to write the new doctrine up. Or talk about it. 

It is when one looks away from the immediate song and dance and at the granular detail of what has been going on since 2014 that one realises what the quality and competence of thinking and execution is in this project that we call New India. 

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