Modi CCS 2.0: Packed High Table, Complex Security Agenda
In the reshuffled Modi CCS 2.0, NSA Ajit Doval will continue to play an important role given the multiple hats that he wears such as head of DPC and SPG.
The verdict is in and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expectedly in his second term has a stronger mandate than the first. The architect of the success of the seven phase general elections no doubt is the Prime Minister himself but also his bête noire and man for all seasons Mr Amit Shah who is now the Union Home Minister. Mr Shah is a strategist and micro manager rolled into one which has made him a formidable political opponent in Gujarat in the past and as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last five years.
In India’s parliamentary system of governance, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is the highest security body headed by the Prime Minister along with the Minister of External Affairs, Defence, Home and Finance. The CCS can consult other ministries and officials which in cases related to defense and security are the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Service Chiefs. The NSA heads the intelligence machinery spread across various organizations having both internal and external spectrums and technical capabilities thus his presence assumes importance. For the first time in many years photographs of the CCS meetings were open to the public during the Balakot strikes in Pakistan on 26 February 2019 and related events that followed. The round table headed by the Prime Minister showed the principal ministers, the NSA, the Foreign Secretary and at times the Service Chiefs.
CCS 2.0 headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have Dr S Jaishanker, the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Rajnath Singh Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Amit Shah the Home Minister and Ms Nirmala Sitharaman the Finance Minister. The NSA Mr Ajit Doval is likely to be a permanent feature of this group. Apart from Mr Shah others have the experience of participating in CCS meetings earlier, which are formal affairs which makes decisions on well considered issues of national security importance. These could as in the post Pulwama response order an air strike on Pakistan a la Balakot, approve defense and security agreements and treaties and sanction major defense purchases that are beyond the financial powers of the Minister of Defence. The strength of the CCS system lies in the value inputs that are brought to the table by the ministers having vast experience and guided by a competent set of civil servants and military commanders who have decades of exposure to defense to support their recommendations. Contrary to popular belief, Mr Modi is said to be open to inputs even from junior officials, debate and discussion on decisions, though the final word remains and should be that of the Prime Minister.
Given the nature of the decision making process, the issues that are brought to the table and the personalities involved influencing factors in defense and security decision making by Modi 2.0 CCS needs some consideration.
Firstly on external security issues – the External Affairs Minister has the lead with intelligence inputs by the NSA. With Dr SJaishanker at the helm, he may have a major say in these decisions while the NSA, Mr Ajit Doval was seen closest to Mr Modi in CCS 1.0. Will there be a switch in CCS 2.0 remains to be seen?
On the internal security front, the Home Minister has the lead once again supported by Mr Ajit Doval on intelligence inputs. Here again the new comer to the CCS Mr Amit Shah may have the lead while Mr Doval in the past was seen as one who drove decision making such as for instance the Naga Framework Agreement of August 2015. The internal security agenda of the government as indicative from the BJP’s election manifesto has some transformational issues such as the abolition of Article 370 and 35 A from the Constitution as applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Citizenship Bill in Assam and implementation of the National Register of Citizenship which are likely to lead to resistance on the ground.
That leaves the Ministry of Defence which is more of an executing and capability building agency and under the able and experienced eye of Mr Rajnath Singh should be able to support the CCS effectively with advise from the military commanders. Ms Nirmala Sitharaman has shifted the portfolio from Defence to Finance would provide the support yet important function particularly in budgetary support to defense.
Importantly NSA Ajit Doval would remain the fulcrum of external and internal decision making policies and implementation given the multiple hats that he wears including head of the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) and the Defence Planning Committee (DPC).
Thus Modi CCS 2.0 has a formidable core of intellect and experience to tackle India’s external and internal security challenges, now how it delivers remains to be seen?