ISSN 2330-717X

India: Revisiting Intelligence Reform


By Firdaus Ahmed

The Outlook informs that a report on intelligence reforms is in the offing. The review is being done by a government think-tank, taking cue from the speech of the Vice President, Hamid Ansari. It has been ten years since the Kargil Review Committee instigated the ‘Gary’ Saxena task force report to the Group of Ministers, and the new report is timely and welcome.

The Rajya Sabha chairman had said at the annual RN Kao Memorial Lecture a year ago that “there is no reason why a democratic system like ours should not have a Standing Committee of Parliament on intelligence.” His speech then had come close on the heels of Mr. Chidambaram’s talk, ‘A New Architecture for India’s Intelligence’ at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture. Thus, political India made its intent clear that changes in both the internal and external dimensions of intelligence were impending. This was understandable since Mumbai 26/11 had indeed shaken up the security system. With reforms elsewhere in place, such as coastal security, it is the turn of intelligence agencies that seem to have failed yet again, after Kargil.

It is being authored by an intelligence ‘insider’, Rana Banerji. He made the news a few years ago as a leading contender for the top job in the external intelligence agency. The ideas he may have entertained and could not oversee may come up in the report, making it one worth looking forward to. Saikat Dutta (‘Ghosts who walk’, Outlook, 28 February 2011) writes that the whole gamut of intelligence function is being reviewed including recruitment, training, covert operations, the operations-analyses balance, financial accountability, ethics etc. Though no report can possibly recommend against opening up the intelligence domain to legislative oversight, the manner and extent of this recommendation would be its highlight, given the reservations about reform that may be in existence.

This article suggests the inclusion of a recommendation on ethnic, regional and community profile balancing within these organizations. The idea can be considered irrespective of whether the Equal Opportunity Bill under debate sees the light of day. Since no data exists on account of secrecy that understandably attends the intelligence function, that this aspect is less than optimal cannot be said outright. However, the possibility of certain subgroups not being represented adequately, such as Muslims and other groups from certain regions, cannot be discounted. The figures, albeit contested, provided by late Omar Khalidi, in his book Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India are representative. The remainder of this article argues why a greater representation of Muslims would be beneficial to the organizations in question and to national security.


There is a perception of Muslim under-representation to the extent of their numbers being negligible to minimal, particularly so in officer ranks, as revealed by Outlook in 2006. That there is no policy to this effect can be conceded, though the article had suggested that it was outcome of an ‘unwritten code’. It possibly owes instead to a lack of qualification and dearth of volunteers. The latter is also due to the self-reinforcing cycle of Muslims not applying under the impression that they would not in any case make the grade. Given this, there is a case for remedial action. While positive discrimination is not the answer, an open recruiting policy may help. Targeting Muslims through an outreach to the community, through its leaders, may be useful. The figures for police and paramilitary have registered an upward trend since the Sachar committee made this suggestion. At officer level initially, Muslims can be asked for as deputationists from other organizations, such as police and the military. That deserving Muslims would likely seize the opportunity can be seen from a Muslim topping the IAS last year and the Indian Forest Service exam this year. The Vastanvi episode indicates the focus on education and jobs in the multiple communities that together form India and the world’s largest minority.

Why is this necessary? Take for instance intelligence on the terror bombings which reveal the handiwork of majoritarian extremists. The refrain in intelligence input, magnified through the media, was that these were perpetrated by Muslims. However, the discourse in the Urdu press and in drawing rooms of Muslim households was to the contrary. It could thus have proved to be a timely line of investigation. At a higher level of abstraction, the domestication of the intelligence function is important for the plural, secular and democratic underpinnings of the republic. In case the character of the state is to be changed, it is the closed intelligence apparatus that would be the first target. Without checks and balances that pervade the system, these organizations lend themselves to such takeover. While democratic control of the military has witnessed much theorizing, the democracy-intelligence relationship has been neglected.

Firdaus Ahmed
[email protected]

Sign up for the Eurasia Review newsletter. Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.