Intelligence agencies have to be accountable to the Executive. Otherwise, there will be no secrecy in their functioning. Without effective secrecy, there cannot be clandestine collection of intelligence having a bearing on national security. Nowhere in the world —not even in the much cited US— is the executive not primarily responsible for the effective functioning of the clandestine agencies.
However, in an increasing number of democracies, the Executive voluntarily shares with the legislature part of the responsibility for monitoring the performance of the secret agencies to ensure their competence to protect national security and to prevent wrong-doings.
In the US, the Executive and the Congress negotiate from time to time the ground rules for sharing this responsibility. The ground rules are so designed that in the anxiety to provide for accountability, the capability of the agencies to function as the clandestine arm of the State is not blunted.
The US Congress now has the following powers in respect of the agencies of the intelligence community:
The Executive and the two Houses of the Congress decide for themselves as to how they will exercise their shared responsibility without encroaching on each other’s turf. The culture of bipartisanship in the US facilitates decisions relating to intelligence agencies being taken by the Executive and the two parties in the Congress in continuous consultation with each other. Congressional leaders exercise their shared responsibility in such a manner as not to weaken national security.
The time has come to consider the introduction in the Indian intelligence community the concept of shared responsibility between the Executive and the Parliament for monitoring the performance of the intelligence agencies. Certain difficulties will arise in this regard which have to be addressed first:
While I have always been a strong advocate of giving Parliament a role in monitoring the performance of the agencies, before this can be done the issues mentioned above have to be resolved through multi-party consensus. While the US model may not suit India, the British model can be considered for adoption with suitable changes and safeguards.
In the British model, the Prime Minister continues to play the leadership role in deciding the ground rules for joint Executive-Legislature monitoring of the performance of the agencies. Under the British political culture, the political parties do not challenge the primacy of the Prime Minister in matters relating to the intelligence agencies.
If we have to introduce the system in India, the political parties have to accept the primacy of the Prime Minister in matters relating to the secret agencies and the Prime Minister and the ruling coalition have to concede that the time has come to give the Parliament a role in this matter.
Once there is a gentlemen’s agreement on this, the nuts and bolts can be decided through joint consultations.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi
Bipartisan culture seems to be withering away in the US as well.
Let us look at the CPI(M). Their leader, Prakash Karat is their bedrock, because he gives a sense that problems are temporary, but can the idea be that if problems are temporary, problems will keep cropping up? The CPI(M) don't want to be in the majority coalition in the Lok Sabha. People like Mr. Yechury, Mr. Karat, could very much have been in the majority party. It appears, communism is democracy, but the democracy of communism, had been perceived as different from the democracy of the liberal, according to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. The communists in the Soviet did think communism is democracy, they didn't bother to express it to a majority in the world, who wouldn't care. The communists know, that getting power in parliament would perhaps not be good, for them, and for India. They are also very important to our democracy. But, they also have read many western philosophers, not connected to Marxist thought, who say, broadly, politics is about power and coercion in the buildings of govt. It seems, govt. is not relevant, because people are not connected to the Lok Sabha, as being a part of the decision. I mean, they cannot debate and pass laws. And, the law on murder is not applicable on those who don't commit murder. They don't have to consider the law, nor think about court proceedings. That is why, political parties are very vocal among the public. It seems, they are not relevant at all, otherwise. And, it does appear, that parties like the CPI(M) are really considered and regarded, as they make the connection between the economy, to the society. The public of India, feel that the govt. directly is in contact with them. Because, the govt. and the political parties are very vocal, have meetings, etc. And the direct contact is each other. Mr. Raman is not wanting, what is not happening. We are aiding what we want to happen, and we perceive what happens as a result.
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