On Friday, June 27, West Bengal Governor, M K Narayanan had an unusual itinerary. The whole day had been reserved for the 80-year old to be closeted with a CBI team arriving from New Delhi. The team, headed by a joint director, came armed with piles of case documents of the Augusta Westland helicopter deal. In 2005, as national security adviser, Narayanan had chaired the technical committee meeting in which the specifications for the VVIP helicopters were amended, making Augusta Westland eligible for the contract.
The quizzing went on for two hours and the group took a lunch break together in the Raj Bhawan dining hall. Then, in the governor’s presence, his testimony was typed and every word approved by him. It was late evening when the CBI team left, and a CBI official present says the governor himself told them he planned to resign early the following week. He mentioned Tuesday, July 1 as the possible date but eventually resigned a day earlier, on June 30.
The reasons for Narayanan’s resignation may be entirely political but, coming as it did just three days after the CBI visited him, it is the questioning that has caught the public eye in the sunset of his career. At 80, his four-year-long, now truncated, stint as West Bengal governor will probably be the last important post he occupies.
‘Mike’ vs ‘Mani’
Seen as a Gandhi family favourite and a quintessential intelligence operative, Narayanan served as the head of the Intelligence Bureau under Rajiv Gandhi, and when Manmohan Singh set up his PMO, he was the one picked to be the prime minister’s security adviser.
Narayanan’s big chance after the death of NSA, J N Dixit and it is Sonia Gandhi who is known to have been keen to get him the coveted position. In the year they spent together in the PMO, the equations between Dixit and Narayanan, or “Mani” and “Mike” as they were known, were extremely competitive and have been most recently described by Sanjaya Baru in his book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’.
Baru writes that theirs was clearly a “turf war” and a bitter “clash of personalities” with the prime minister himself deeply worried about the heated arguments they would have on subjects of intelligence and diplomacy.
The fact remains that Narayanan is a doyen of Indian intelligence who has mentored several prominent intelligence chiefs and thus, during his years as NSA, kept a stranglehold on the security establishment. This inevitably had pitfalls. For one, he always favoured the IB, say, against the R&AW and more recently against newer agencies such as the NTRO (National Technical Research Agency). Also, he insisted that the IB and R&AW chiefs report to him directly, a practice that led to the centralisation of critical intelligence inputs on his desk in the PMO, with serious consequences when this happened before the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
While it has never been made continued…