The Home Minister needs someone "to put a bit in his mouth" M.K. Narayanan
Did M.K. Narayanan “jump”? Or was he “pushed”? U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer found the former National Security Adviser's suggestion that “he sought to depart … somewhat unconvincing, given the NSA's assiduous cultivation of senior USG [United States Government] contacts through the end of 2009.” Mr. Narayanan was appointed Governor of West Bengal on January 16, 2010.
In a cable sent on January 15, 2010 (243925: confidential) to the Secretary of State's office in Washington and copied to U.S. embassies around the world, Mr. Roemer said that during a private meeting a day before his appointment as Governor, the NSA dodged a question on whether he was departing voluntarily. Mr. Narayanan had replied that he had had a “great run” in his five years as NSA and that he had discussed a possible move with the Prime Minister as early as in June 2009. When Mr. Roemer specifically asked whether his perceived rivalry with Home Minister P. Chidambaram had contributed to the departure, Mr. Narayanan quipped that the Home Minister at times needed someone “to check him and put a bit in his mouth.”
Congress general secretary and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh was more candid about Mr. Narayanan's exit. Mr. Roemer's cable stated that Mr. Singh told the Political Counsel of the Embassy that a “turf battle” between Mr. Narayanan and Home Minister P. Chidambaram over which of them has “primary intelligence and counter-terrorism responsibilities” was a reason for his impending departure.
Mr. Digvijay Singh said that while the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the Central Bureau of Investigation all reported to Mr. Narayanan, himself a former chief of the IB, “Chidambaram was bent on consolidating all intelligence, internal security and counterterrorism functions in a single entity that reported to him.” A second reason for Mr. Narayanan's exit, according to Mr. Digvijay Singh, was his age. (Mr. Narayanan was 76 when he was appointed Governor of West Bengal.)
While refusing to speculate on who would succeed him, Mr. Narayanan told Mr. Roemer that whoever took the job would have “a reduced portfolio with the future NSA no longer retaining dominance on the full range of strategic issues, including defense, space, intelligence, and India's nuclear programs.” While he would not confirm whether he would accept a governorship, or if he had sought it, Mr. Narayanan observed that West Bengal had “every imaginable challenge,” including border problems, counter-terrorism issues, naxalites and chronic underdevelopment.
The cable noted with a touch of regret that his departure “presents a challenge to moving forward swiftly on our agenda in India.” Describing him as a strong backer of the U.S.-India relationship” it said he “served as a key conduit to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi” who “could bang heads within the Indian bureaucracy to move issues of interest with us.”
It stated that the three leading contenders to succeed Mr. Narayanan were former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon (who got the job), the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Climate Change, Shyam Saran, and the former Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen. The cable noted: “While Menon did take the fall for the Prime Minister's politically disastrous July 2009 joint statement at Sharm [Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt] with Pakistani PM [Yusuf Raza] Gilani, he is seen as a loyal and highly experienced diplomat.”