In “Undercover,” the cover story for the September 2017 issue of The Caravan, Praveen Donthi profiled the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. In the piece, Donthi reported on the NSA’s ties to the Vivekananda International Foundation and the India Foundation. The NSA is the founding director of the former, while his son, Shaurya, is a director of the latter. The two think tanks share close ties with powerful leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—the VIF’s ties to the RSS are an open secret, and in addition to Shaurya, the India Foundation counts among its directors the cabinet ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Suresh Prabhu, as well the BJP’s national general secretary, Ram Madhav.
In the following extract from the profile, Donthi reports on how links to the two organisations contribute to strengthening Doval’s influence within the current dispensation.
In 2009, the Vivekananda Kendra, founded by an RSS leader in the 1970s, set up a think tank named the Vivekananda International Foundation. Doval was appointed its founding director. According to the VIF website, he spoke at the inauguration of bringing “the intellectual community in consonance with the spirit of nationalism,” and of encouraging “young, talented research scholars to probe the depths of research in various genre of topics which are very vital to the national interests … so as to elevate India to her right place in the world.” That declaration notwithstanding, Doval went on to fill the organisation largely with retired security bureaucrats and diplomats. The VIF’s employees have also included the journalist Rajeev Sharma. Nitin Gokhale is currently one of its visiting fellows.
The VIF declares itself an “independent, non-partisan institution,” but its links with the RSS are an open secret. A political activist associated with the RSS told me the organisation is “emotionally linked with the Sangh Parivar.” He added that Swaminathan Gurumurthy, a leader of the RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, was a major force behind the VIF’s creation. Doval was a natural choice to lead it. “When Doval was in the IB, all of us were concerned about the cross-border terrorism,” the political activist told me. “Slowly, that bond of association found a structure. Familiarity of goal and thinking was always there.”
At around the time that the VIF was established, Doval’s son, Shaurya, returned to India after a career as an investment banker abroad. Soon he became a director of a think tank of his own—the India Foundation. His main partner in this was Ram Madhav, then a national spokesperson for the RSS. The organisation set to work behind the scenes in Delhi and elsewhere in support of Modi’s prime ministerial campaign.