Washington, Jan. 5: India's external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), already battered by the defection of one of its operatives to the US, is in further flux over Monday's decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to temporarily assign the duties of national security adviser to M.K. Narayanan, his special adviser on internal security.
The decision gives Narayanan a major say in the choice of the next RAW chief, which will be made any day. RAW's current head, C.D. Sahay, retires at the end of this month. National security adviser J.N. Dixit, who died on Monday, and Narayanan have been locked in combat for several months over RAW, which is facing a crisis of leadership and low morale following the defection of Ravinder Singh, a joint secretary.
Narayanan, an Indian Police Service officer from Tamil Nadu cadre who was chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) during Rajiv Gandhi's prime ministership, is viewed by most RAW officials as having been hostile to their organisation and partial to IB.
The ministry of external affairs, on the other hand, has a love-hate relationship with RAW, whose operatives work with MEA officials at major Indian diplomatic missions abroad.
Dixit, unlike Narayanan, had many years of harmonious, even if competing relationship with a succession of RAW chiefs. The conflict between Dixit and Narayanan has also been over restructuring RAW after the Ravinder Singh episode and a few other scandals.
Narayanan has supported, both as IB chief and since joining the Prime Minister's Office in May, his fellow IPS officers on deputation to RAW.
Dixit, on the other hand, viewed with favour RAW's own cadre of sleuths. This cadre of officers fear that Narayanan wants to make RAW another IPS outfit instead of a CIA or KGB-style professional organisation of spies who are trained in the art of espionage right from the start of their career.
The tussle over control of intelligence between Dixit and Narayanan at times spilled beyond their offices in South Block. In one case, Narayanan went outside the government to stop an appointment related to intelligence that Dixit was able to push through. Just before the Prime Minister left for New York in September, he stepped in and issued orders detailing intelligence-related work in the PMO, especially in Kashmir and the Northeast. Those orders strengthened Narayanan's hands at the expense of the home ministry.
Dixit had been dealing with RAW on day-to-day matters in the PMO, but Narayanan investigated the disappearance of Ravinder Singh, who has since been spotted in Virginia, near here. Narayanan's report on the investigation is now in Manmohan Singh's hands and will have a bearing on the choice of the new RAW chief.
Sahay, the current chief, was originally an IPS officer, but was absorbed into the RAW cadre long ago. His predecessor, Vikram Sood, started his career in the Indian Postal Service before joining the RAW cadre.
The choice is also complicated by the fact that the senior-most RAW officer in the line for succession, J.K. Sinha, has only six months before superannuation.
If Narayanan has his way, both Sinha and Ambar Sen, a special secretary in RAW, will be overlooked for promotion in favour of an outsider, probably from the IPS.
Either way, it is a decision which will have a crucial bearing on India's external intelligence at a time when RAW is at the crossroads.