The newly reelected Narendra Modi government has reappointed Ajit Doval to his post of national security advisor. Doval’s rank will reportedly be upgraded from that of a minister of state to a cabinet minister. Last week, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who served as foreign secretary during Modi’s first tenure, and formerly as India’s ambassador to the US and to China, was appointed the union minister for external affairs. Jaishankar—once a contender for Doval’s job—has long differed with the NSA on his approaches to foreign policy.
In “Undercover,” the cover story of The Caravan’s September 2017 issue, Praveen Donthi reported that there had even been suggestions of friction between the two. “Doval is a policeman, with a very law-and-order approach, and doesn’t look at the long-term point of view,” a senior diplomatic correspondent told Donthi. Jaishankar “looks at things like a diplomat.” But, the correspondent continued, “The diplomats of other countries in our neighbourhood, including China, don’t really have any respect for Doval and Jaishankar as they are seen not as diplomats with a vision but as apparatchiks.”
In an interview in January 2014, when asked of his rumoured connections to the BJP, Doval responded, “I am not a member of any political party, have never been. I don’t think I’d like to accept any position in any government.”
After the BJP-led coalition won the general election a few months later, speculation about the NSA post settled on a handful of candidates: Kanwal Sibal, the former foreign secretary; Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s ambassador to the United States; Hardeep Singh Puri, formerly India’s representative to the United Nations; and Doval, acknowledged as the favourite.
A former IB chief told me that it came down to Doval and Puri, a friend of the soon-to-be cabinet minister Arun Jaitley. “Hardeep might have a better sense of humour and likes to laugh at himself,” he said. “I don’t think Doval likes to do that. Both have very strong lobbies in the newspapers too. If you are looking to impress and influence people, then Hardeep is the man. Doval is a doer.”