The foreign policy hand
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Brajesh Mishra was the vital link between politics and diplomacy
The tributes paid to Brajesh Mishra are particularly merited for being hard-earned. Pushing through sensible policies is nightmarish in our present politico-administrative environment, but it was not much easier then. His sense of India's strategic needs was refined by his experience of how the world actually works, distinct from our Indian insistence that it must work the way we imagine. His exceptional effectiveness derived greatly from being able to negotiate the labyrinths of domestic politics, and especially from the complete confidence of his chief: his voice was heard as the PM's own. Such assets still need the ability to get things done, which in turn depends on the degree to which the vast, creaky government machinery responds to leaders. Brajesh had the advantage of the surpassing weight Atal Bihari Vajpayee carried within his party and nationally. Also, by combining the two posts, he was better placed as principal secretary to get our bureaucracy to heed what he recommended as national security advisor (NSA).
Though uniquely combining the titles, Brajesh had predecessors who had also played both roles, notably P.N. Haksar and P.N. Dhar, the two principal secretaries who were also key advisers on what are called national security matters today. Government heads always feel the need of a personal expert to supplement — if not supersede — inputs on foreign affairs and related security concerns from the ministries directly responsible. Remember Krishna Menon's controversial performance as grey eminence to Nehru; more happily, although not entirely without controversy, Indira Gandhi turned frequently to G. Parthasarthi. Such extra-official advisors cannot be excluded, but, granted the need for one, it is best to have properly established arrangements. Not only an NSA, but a significant support apparatus, is now universal practice — indeed, we need to expand ours.
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