Vivekananda International Foundation, a five-year-old think tank located in the heart of the national capital, is emerging a recruitment centre for the new Prime Minister’s Office. While national security adviser Ajit Doval was the director of VIF, the principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nripendra Mishra, was a member of the executive council and a senior fellow with VIF.
The first book Modi released as prime minister a week ago, Getting India Back on Track, was co-edited by Bibek Debroy who is the dean of the Centre for Economic Studies at VIF. Former DG (DRDO) V K Saraswat, dean of the Centre for Scientific and Technological Studies at VIF, is tipped to replace R Chidambaram as principal scientific adviser to the government.
At the launch of Debroy’s book, Modi said “the input of intellectual think tanks” should be substantially enhanced for better policy frameworks.
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Set up in 2009, VIF is affiliated to Vivekananda Kendra that was founded by former RSS general secretary Eknath Ranade about four decades ago. It was in 1993 that the Narasimha Rao government had allotted land to the Kanyakumari-based VK in Chanakyapuri where VIF stands today. After Doval’s appointment as NSA, former chief of Army staff Gen (retd) N C Vij has been appointed VIF director.
Senior fellow and editor of VIF Publications K G Suresh denied any link between the VIF and the RSS or the BJP. “It is a coincidence that they (Doval and Nripendra Mishra) are from here. They are giants in their own fields. It is not fair to say that they were picked by the government because they are from the VIF. We have nothing to do with the RSS or the BJP,” he told The Indian Express. “We, the VIF, were totally with the [UPA] government during the Devyani Khobragade episode. We supported the UPA government when there was talk about a land swap with Bangladesh. So, you cannot say that we have any association with any political party.”
The VIF website describes it as “an independent, nonpartisan institution that promotes quality research and in-depth studies”. “It strives to bring together the best minds in India to ideate on key national and international issues; promote initiatives that further the cause of peace and global harmony; monitor social, economic and political trends that have a bearing on India’s unity and integrity…” says its mission statement. VIF’s advisory board and executive council include former chiefs of Army staff, former ambassadors and foreign secretaries, retired intelligence officials and bureaucrats, apart from well-known academics.
While it stresses that it is nonpartisan, the institution did play a role in providing a platform to bring together forces who went on to launch movements against the UPA. As reported by The Indian Express in August 2012, it was at the VIF that a decision was taken to form an anti-corruption front under yoga guru Ramdev. A year earlier, the foundation together with RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya’s Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan had organised a seminar on corruption and black money attended by Ramdev, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. At the end of the seminar, an “anti-corruption front” was formed with Ramdev as patron and Govindacharya as convener. The members included Doval and RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy.
Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly included P K Mishra’s name among those associated with VIF. The error is regretted.