Monday, October 15, 2012

Brajesh Mishra — an institution who bequeathed institutions

Here's my piece on Brajesh Mishra, a tribute to him.....

Brajesh Mishra’s passing away has left a huge void among his family, friends, India’s diplomatic core, and the strategic community. He has been acclaimed as a statesman, a true patriot and a pragmatist. He did not let ideology come in the way of what he saw as good for the nation, something that became the most evident during the US-India nuclear deal. However, his role and vision as an institution maker and the re-orientation that he brought about in India’s foreign and security policies are something that should be particularly
commended.

For the full article, click here.



Obituaries in India are usually hagiographies and requiems by friends exercises in “I too was there”. But what a man with claims to greatness really needs is approval from youth. Here’s one from the whole new school of strategy analysts Brajesh Mishra created.

Brajesh Mishra’s passing away has left a huge void among his family, friends, India’s diplomatic core, and the strategic community. He has been acclaimed as a statesman, a true patriot and a pragmatist. He did not let ideology come in the way of what he saw as good for the nation, something that became the most evident during the US-India nuclear deal. However, his role and vision as an institution maker and the re-orientation that he brought about in India’s foreign and security policies are something that should be particularly commended.

Many members of the Indian strategic community probably had closer and longer interactions with him than I had, considering that I was much junior to him and his compatriots. Nevertheless, I had the occasion to interact with him over the last few years at the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank that he has always supported. India’s National Security Council (NSC) is only a little more than a decade old — established under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra. Once the institution of NSC was set up, Brajesh Mishra was given additional charge and became India’s first National Security Adviser (NSA) in 1998. Serving this twin position until the Congress-led UPA government came into power in 2004, Mishra gave the NSC the leadership and direction for the next six years,
nurturing the NSC and its associated bodies such as the Strategic Planning Group (SPG), the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). After the efforts in the early 1990s to set up an NSC, it took an institution such as Brajesh Mishra to give life to the entire gamut of national security institutions, such as those mentioned above.

The SPG, made up of the key heads of departments such including the Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, Revenue Secretary, Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force, among others including the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Secretary, RAW, Director, Intelligence Bureau, Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, Scientific Advisor to the Defense Minister, Secretary of the Department of Space, became the principal bureaucratic deliberative body at the higher reaches of the government.

A second critical institution in this regard was the National Security Council Secretariat, the secretariat for the NSC. The NSCS was formed out of the JIC, a much older institution that had been tasked with the collection, collation of intelligence inputs from the internal and external intelligence agencies, besides the service headquarters that have their own intelligence gathering functions. JIC was also meant to be the one-stop-shop as far as intelligence is concerned.

A third institution that came into being with the establishment of the NSC was the NSAB - a body of eminent experts from varied walks with expertise in internal security, intelligence, foreign affairs and strategic analysis, science and
technology, economics and military. The firs NSAB under the leadership of strategic doyen K Subrahmanyam prepared India’s first nuclear doctrine, although it was superseded in 2003 by a more official ‘doctrine.’

The institutional and structural changes and additions brought by the NDA government were carefully calibrated by Mishra, who enjoyed total and complete trust and confidence of Vajpayee. Following the Kargil conflict, the government had instituted a Kargil Review Committee (KRC), headed by K Subrahmanyam and under the direction of Mishra. Thereafter, four task forces and a GoM were established to ensure that the recommendations made in the KRC were implemented. More than anything else, Mishra was a ‘hands-on’ NSA with direct control on every issue. Such personal commitment led to the sustenance of the NSC the second time it was attempted.

Two major changes came about with the establishment of the NSC. One, the functions of the NSA until 1998 was carried out by the office of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. Two, security was by and large synonymous with military and defending of the nation from adversaries, which was more typically territorial protection. The concept of security in the broader context had begun to grip the global community in the late 1990s and India too caught the fever and raised the pitch to include human security, energy security, food security and so on. In the five years that I served at the National Security Council Secretariat, security was no longer seen solely in the traditional sense of military security. Even though India was still reeling under the sanctions post-1998 nuclear tests, China and Pakistan were not the sole focus.

Even so, Mishra had found unique ways to reach across to both Pakistan and China, resulting in the Lahore diplomacy with Pakistan and the Vajpayee visit to Beijing in 2003. In spite of the general impression that the BJP had a hardline foreign and security policy, one actually saw progress under the NDA regime in India’s relations with both Pakistan and China. Despite the concerns, Mishra understood and emphasised the importance of having a secure neighbourhood if India was to emerge as a major power.

Under Mishra’s guidance, India also consolidated its relationship the United States. For the first time ever, India was engaged in a strategic dialogue with another country, something conspicuously missing even during the heyday of Indo-Soviet partnership. Within two years after the 1998 nuclear tests, as a result of the 14 rounds of strategic dialogue between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott, India had managed to change the nature and contours of US-India relations, that was until then so restricted by the traditional US nuclear non- proliferation concerns.

My interactions with Mishra were minimal while I was in the NSCS. However, my interactions with him became much more frequent once I joined the Observer Research Foundation in July 2007, especially as I worked on my project on Asian military strategies, an issue that he had deep interest and insight on. Despite the fact that he was a former NSA, he was very much open to debating policy issues with someone far his junior. He argued that India should not join any coalition against China. Instead, he believed that we should cultivate each of these countries, but deal with them through bilateral rather than multilateral channels, which could raise China’s own insecurities. This is not to suggest that Mishra had any illusions about China or China-India relations. He understood the complexities that engulfed the relations between the two Asian powers because more than anything else he was a pragmatic, more interested in solutions than slogans. Indian foreign policy-makers would be well advised to follow that lead.

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