VERY RARELY DO WE HEAR wise words from Indian vice-presidents. This is because the position is often occupied by our not so successful politicians, who, once ensconced at the two and a half hectare VP’s bungalow on Maulana Azad Road, remain careful to avoid uttering anything to upset their chances for a potential ascent to Rashtrapati Bhavan—138 hectares and of far greater standing in history. So VPs often stay out of debates, let alone start them. But on 19 January 2010, Hamid Ansari, career-diplomat-turned Vice-President said something that I thought was very wise of someone from that position. He spoke of the need to democratise our Intelligence. Ansari was addressing senior intelligence officers at the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) headquarters, India’s external espionage service, in an annual lecture.
Ansari uttered three words that all spies detest: scrutiny, accountability, and liability. In the first of any such official call, the VP proposed the need for political, financial and legal scrutiny and setting up a Standing Committee of Parliament on Intelligence to make the agencies accountable to the legislature, like in dozens of other democracies. If and when this happens, it would mean significant changes to the way Indian spies operate.
Ansari’s call came at a crucial time. After the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 and since PC Chidambaram became Home Minister, the government has been busy setting up what it calls ‘the new architecture of national security.’ Changes included the formation of some new agencies to sizeably reduce the scope of some old-guard offices, like that of the National Security Advisor. There are at least a dozen intelligence and enforcement services operating under different ministries, which the ministry has proposed to bring under one central command, the National Counter Terrorism Centre. And, of course, further changes would involve removals, transfers and new appointments. Thus, in some 14 months, PC Chidambaram has created the image of an ultimate saviour of national security.