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Security pieces fall in place

New Delhi/Washington, Jan. 25: After weeks of speculation, M.K. Narayanan is being appointed national security adviser, a post he was given interim charge of following the sudden death of J.N. Dixit.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Narayanan 'will have the same powers, defined or undefined, as his predecessor'.

Before the formal order of his appointment is announced on Thursday, P.K. Hormis Tharakan was named as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country's external spy agency, in a signal that pieces on the chessboard were being moved simultaneously.

In a break with convention, Narayanan travelled to Kerala a few days ago to persuade Tharakan, working as the police chief there, to accept the job.

Tharakan, an under-cover RAW operative and a veteran of the agency's operations in India's neighbourhood outside Pakistan, will succeed C.D. Sahay on February 1.

He will re-focus RAW in India's neighbourhood, where it has lost ground during a period of low morale, especially after one of its joint secretaries defected to the US.

Tharakan, who supersedes J.K. Sinha, the RAW special secretary who is the seniormost claimant to the top post, is understood to have sought and obtained a free hand for the agency's clean-up.

Since Narayanan's appointment to the PMO, where he was internal security adviser before this job, an apprehension had been created in RAW that he is committed to recasting the agency in the image of his parent organisation, the Intelligence Bureau.

Just as RAW is getting a man with his own mind, there are other straws in the wind which suggest that unlike Dixit, and before him Brajesh Mishra, Narayanan may not be the master of all he surveys.

For one, he will have little to do with Indian policy towards either Pakistan or China. Pakistan will be handled for the Prime Minister by S.K. Lambah, the convener of the National Security Advisory Board. For the time being, China will be handled by foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

According to sources who were parties to this week's key appointments, Sonia Gandhi played a key role in decision-making, the first time she has been involved so deeply in a government affair.

Concerns about Narayanan had been conveyed forcefully to her in recent days. Sonia has known Tharakan for many decades, since the time he was posted in the Indian embassy in Rome.

A favourite after-dinner story by the then Indian ambassador told to visitors from home was about how Tharakan spoke to a visiting, apolitical Sonia in Italian, but she replied throughout in Hindi. Tharakan, a native of Kerala, did not switch from Italian because he found Sonia's Hindi better than his own.

A third appointment that is part of a package, but finalised a few days earlier, will elevate E.S.L. Narasimhan as chief of intelligence bureau on February 1.

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