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Asif Ibrahim as IB chief: Reading between the lines

By Sheela Bhatt
November 26, 2012 14:33 IST
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Asif Ibrahim's appointment as Director of India's Intelligence Bureau has stirred considerable interest.

Observers believe the UPA government has chosen the new heads of the IB, the Research and Analysis Wing and the Central Bureau of Investigation, keeping in mind the next Lok Sabha election, reports Sheela Bhatt.

Asif Ibrahim's appointment as Director of India's Intelligence Bureau will open a new chapter in the agency's history. Ibrahim will be the first Muslim to head the Intelligence Bureau, India's domestic intelligence-gathering agency.

Ibrahim's appointment will demonstrate the government's confidence in the professionalism of its intelligence officers, beyond caste, religion and political affiliations.

The government is also in the process of finalising the appointment of the next chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency.

Last week, Ranjit Sinha was appointed Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The new heads of the IB, R&AW and the CBI will be in office till the end of 2014 under the two-year fixed tenure rule applicable to these posts. That means these officers will be in charge of their respective agencies during the next election to the Lok Sabha, whether it is held in 2014 or earlier.

Observers note that the government's choices have been made carefully to ensure that these law enforcement and intelligence agencies are headed by individuals who enjoy the confidence of the Congress party, which heads the United Progress Alliance government in New Delhi.

Ibrahim's selection is seen as the most important. As head of the Intelligence Bureau, he will monitor the political situation in the states before the general election and will be informally consulted by the government on the suitability and popularity of the Congress candidates.

According to a retired intelligence official, "Ibrahim has been close to the Congress and used to be known as the trusted officer of the late Madhavrao Scindia. In selecting him, the government has overlooked three officers one year senior to him (in the Indian Police Service)."

"The government has sought to project his selection as based on merit and not his religion," the retired intelligence official added, "but many in the Opposition will see it as a vote-bank appointment to woo Muslim votes."

Ibrahim -- a 1977 batch IPS Madhya Pradesh cadre officer -- has quite an impressive professional record with tenures abroad and, most importantly, in Kashmir. If selected, he will supersede V Rajagopal, R N Gupta and Yashovardhan Azad, IPS officers of the 1976 batch.

According to some reports emanating from the IB headquarters, this move has already created generated unhappiness in the agency.

Alok Joshi, who is set to become R&AW's next chief, has a good professional reputation with long years in R&AW, the Intelligence Bureau and in his state, Haryana's police service. He avoided joining the Research and Analysis Service -- which senior R&AW officers do, after resigning from the IPS -- apparently to keep his professional options open.

The government apparently wanted an IPS officer known to the Congress to head R&AW during the general election. By selecting Joshi, the government will overlook the claims of Research and Analysis Service officers who have permanently joined R&AW.

There is unhappiness among RAS officers that the government has once again avoided appointing one of them in order to have a politically amenable IPS officer as the agency's head.

This unhappiness is unlikely to affect the Congress during the election because RAS officers do not have political contacts in the states as much as Intelligence Bureau officers do.

Like it did in the cases of the IB and R&AW, the government wanted an officer it could rely on as the CBI director.

The tenure of Ibrahim, Joshi and Sinha will be co-terminus, extending to 2014. This will facilitate better professional and political co-ordination till the election process, whenever it is held, concludes.

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