The appointment of lieutenant general DS Hooda to head the Congress party’s national security 'task force’ is a good choice — not to mention, a political coup. Hooda, one of the finest officers the Indian Army has produced, is understated but quick on the uptake. He is prompt with responses and has a razor-sharp attention to detail.
This appointment places Hooda front and centre as a candidate for the position of National Security Advisor just in case the Congress comes to power after the upcoming elections. He denies that this is the plan, but confirmed that his task was to chart a five-year road map for India on the entire gamut of strategic and foreign policy concerns — including such fields as cybersecurity and energy security.
Our next NSA? This places Hooda at centre for the National Security Advisor's post if the Congress comes to power in 2019. (Photo: PTI)
In the past, committees or bodies dealing with the broad spectrum of national security concerns have generally been headed either by men with experience in foreign service or intelligence. Serving and retired Army officers have been limited to positions among the dozen or so at the second or third level in the NSA’s set-up.
Three foreign servicemen — Brajesh Mishra, JN Dixit and Shiv Shankar Menon — and two former directors of the Intelligence Bureau — MK Narayanan and the incumbent Ajit Doval — have served as the National Security Advisor. A former head of RAW and a foreign serviceman currently serve as deputy NSAs.
Ironically, it is the incumbent government that has promoted the army as the prime repository of a sacred nationalism, the guarantor of the nation’s security. In particular, the surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September 2016 have been vigorously promoted as a symbol of national vitality and hard power.
Against this background, Rahul Gandhi has flicked a page from the ruling party’s playbook by appointing an army man to this crucial position, rather than a foreign service or intelligence man. Indeed, Hooda was the C-in-C along the entire Line of Control where the surgical strikes were conducted.
Rahul Gandhi has flicked a page from the ruling party’s playbook. (Photo: PTI)
Hooda’s task is not easy, for the current challenge to national security is, to a large extent, geopolitical. The assignment requires deep insights into the complex kaleidoscope of international relations. There are fast-paced changes in Afghanistan, China’s relationships with a host of countries across the globe are progressing in high gear, Russia is resurgent, there is flux in the European Union, the Saudis, Iran and Turkey are competing — and the area between them is in turmoil.
Hooda’s assignment requires in-depth knowledge of the latest developments in technology, the cyber world and artificial intelligence. At seminars organised by a major newspaper last year, Hooda showed knowledge and understanding of problems regarding cyber dimensions of the command and control of contemporary armaments. Of course, his experience in uniform would give him ample understanding of what is required to get out of the 'vintage' equipment with which the army is currently saddled.
Hooda has emphasised the need to give Kashmiri militants a chance to surrender and to win over young Kashmiris. (Photo: PTI)
Hooda headed the Udhampur-based Northern Command during the uprising in the Valley, following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016, and the Uri attack. He is highly respected in army circles as a commander who carries his officers along — and has empathetic concern for soldiers.
He is known in Jammu and Kashmir as the C-in-C who imposed restraint in a very challenging time. During the uprising, he took the extraordinary step of going to Srinagar and expressing public regret for the killing of a village schoolmaster by his troops, the man apparently said to be an overground worker for terrorists.
During his tenure, Hooda emphasised the need to give Kashmiri militants in the field every chance to surrender and to try and win over young Kashmiris. His firm grip as commander allowed him to take such bold stances, which were often not liked by some of his colleagues and subordinates.
He earned the respect of politicians across the political spectrum. National Conference (NC) president Omar Abdullah tweeted a compliment after Hooda’s appointment on Friday, although he (Omar) had publicly criticised the Congress a few hours earlier.
It is now up to Hooda to earn further respect by showing that he has an adequate grasp of not only the strategies and tactics of battle formations but also over geopolitics, international relations — and cutting-edge cyber developments.
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