From Vivekananda to PMO stars: Meet Modi's favourite think tank

Barely a month in office and three big appointments in the Prime Minister's Office - National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra and Additional Principal Secretary PK Mishra- have been picked from a little-known Delhi think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's top officials are from this little-known think tank. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's top officials are from this little-known think tank. AFP

On its website, the organisation, located in Delhi's diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, describes itself as an independent, non-partisan institution, but it is a project of the Vivekanada Kendra, an organisation set up by RSS idealogue Eknath Ranade. At the foyer of VIF hangs a portrait of Ranade, Business Standard reports.

The Kendra describes itself as "an initiative for inter-civilisational harmony through dialogue and understanding for building international understanding through Indian wisdom, thereby promoting the Indian cause at the international level."

One part of this initiative is the VIF, "a think tank set up with the collaborative efforts of India's leading security experts, diplomats, industrialists and philanthropists." The Kendra website further describes VIF as an organisation whose objective is "to become a centre of excellence to kick start innovative ideas and thoughts that can lead to a stronger, secure and prosperous India playing its destined role in global affairs."

The foundation is the brainchild of NSA Doval, arguably one of India's best spies, who founded it in 2009. It however, gained prominence in 2011, when it conducted a seminar on black money and corruption, where then prominent Team Anna reportedly met yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

While it has been widely reported that a media baron close to the BJP and RSS had initially funded the organisation, its editor KG Suresh denies any such links. "We have nothing to do with the RSS or the BJP. We supported the UPA government during the Khobragade episode as well as the Bangladesh land issue," he toldThe Indian Express.  An article in the Outlook Magazine quotes the editor of VIF, KG Suresh as saying that the organisation has been wrongly'tagged':

"KG Suresh, editor of VIF, states that being a strategic think-tank that works in the space of national security, diplomacy, governance, the vision of a strong and prosperous India, 'we have got tagged with the BJP and RSS, but our studies are open'. VIF, he adds, does not get any funding from them. 'Of course, at the top level, they do take input from us on diplomacy and international relations. Even Congress leaders attend our seminars.' "

In the Business Standard report, Suresh is quoted as saying, "Is it a crime to be a nationalist? We are affiliated only to the Vivekananda Kendra and Rock Memorial and we neither support nor are against any other organisation."

Prime Minister Modi is not the first to recruit a top official from a think tank organisation. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh hand-picked his principal secretary TKA Nair from the Chandigarh-based think tank, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development.

Interestingly, the first book that Modi released as Prime Minister, 'Getting India Back on Track', was by Bibek Debroy, who incidentally is the dean of the Centre for Economic Studies at VIF.  At the launch of Debroy’s book, Modi according to The Indian Express said “the input of intellectual think tanks” should be substantially enhanced for better policy frameworks.

Modi, who has reportedly been following the organisation closely, could recruit more top intellectuals from the Foundation. According to an article in The Statesman, among those waiting for possible appointments are former RAW chief CD Sahay, former urban development secretary Anil Baijal, former ambassador to Russia Prabhat Shukla and former vice chief of air staff, Air Marshal (retd) SG Inamdar.

Interestingly, this is not the first time a BJP government has associated with a think-tank with links to the RSS. In Goa, BJP Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who heads a BJP government, announced his government's plans to appoint Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) to operate a defence studies academy.

As reported by Firstpost earlier, Parrrikar had said: "Sometimes you wonder whether we seriously understand our security problem. Shortly, I am announcing the setting up of an academy which FINS can operate," during the state's budget session in February this year.  "The state government will set it up. It can be a college of security or school or whatever word you want to use," he had said.

FINS, an RSS-backed defence organisation, has the organisation's idealogue Indresh Kumar as its chief patron. Interestingly, when Parrikar made the announcement, former home secretary RK Singh and former Intelligence Bureau secretary Ajit Doval were present. Singh is now a BJP MP from Arrah, while Doval is the NSA.


Updated Date: Jun 17, 2014 13:19 PM

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