Ajit Doval became India’s fifth national security advisor (NSA) within days of the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in May 2014. He would have hoped to work in the shadows, just like he did all his professional life as one of India’s accomplished spymasters. But in his 20-month tenure so far as NSA, Doval has been in the public limelight far more than any of his predecessors, barring perhaps Brajesh Mishra, the country’s first security tsar under A.B. Vajpayee.
In the wake of the Pathankot terror attack, his role has once again come under close scrutiny, with critics blaming him for what they call a “botched-up” operation, thanks to his penchant for a hands-on approach. Some have even labelled him a control freak for taking charge of sensitive counter-terrorists ops. Others point to his lack of experience in and exposure to foreign policy issues—as an IPS officer who got deputed to the Intelligence Bureau fairly early, he spent his entire career in counter-insurgency and intelligence operations—as a reason for India’s recent flip-flops in dealing with Pakistan and its faltering steps in Nepal.