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Updated: October 6, 2012 02:33 IST

Understanding the obligations of ruling India

Harish Khare
Comment (23)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Brajesh Mishra was convinced that only a Centre able to practise secular values and respect the country’s plural traditions could pursue a robust strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan

The year was 2002. Two days after bloody riots erupted in Gujarat, I got a call late in the evening from an Ahmedabad-based officer of the Indian Police Service. The policeman simply said: “Sir, I am embarrassed to make this call. I am told that a local BJP legislator in Mehsana district is planning to undertake a massacre of Muslims tonight. And I am ashamed that there is no one here who will listen.” The police officer gave me the name of the village and taluka where the BJP “leader” had invited the village for a feast before the mob could be worked up to march on to a nearby village with a large concentration of Muslims.

Overwhelmed by the enormity of the imminent crime, I rang up my friend Brajesh Mishra. Fortuitously, Mishra picked up his mobile. I simply narrated to him what I had been told from Ahmedabad. He heard me out, noting down the sketchy details, and said: “Let me see.” Next morning I got another call from the police officer, who was obviously relieved and said: “Sir, I do not know what you did or to whom you talked; within two hours, an army posse reached the spot, rowdies were made to stay put, and their bloody plans sabotaged. Over 100 lives were saved. Thank you.”

A few days later, when I went over to the Prime Minister’s Office to have my weekly tea with Mishra, I thanked him profusely. With becoming dignity and gravitas he observed: “Those of us who have the good fortune to work in this office for the Prime Minister of India can never become indifferent to the obligation of social harmony.”

Golden principle

Suddenly it was clear that the man who wore two hats — the Principal Secretary to Prime Minister and National Security Adviser — was laying down the golden principle for administering India. The state can never abandon its neutrality nor become ambivalent about social harmony. In that moment, Brajesh Mishra revealed himself to be a keen student of P.N. Haksar, another practitioner of enlightened statecraft who served another Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, with great distinction.

Haksar had presciently spelled out a vital link between internal cohesion and our national security: “Secularism or its failure affects vitally social cohesion in our society, without which we cannot discuss our security. The fundamental basis for ensuring security of any state is its inner unity, cohesion and coherence of the society. A society which is torn between conflicting religions is bound to be an easy prey to internal forces of disintegration and external forces of destabilization.”

Although Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s mascot, had managed to notch up an impressive victory in the 2002 Gujarat election by positing a Mian Musharraf-Madarsas-Muslims linkage, Brajesh Mishra (as well as his boss, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) was profoundly unhappy. It was clear to him that if the BJP had any long-term hopes of ruling the country, surely the Modi prescriptions and slogans were totally unhelpful. Those were the heady days of the post-9/11 war on terror. Indian statesmanship demanded that the polity be spared the debilitating polarisation of a civil war.

Mishra was convinced that only a Centre able to practise secular values and respect our country’s plural traditions could conduct superior diplomacy and pursue a robust strategy, especially vis-à-vis Pakistan. And, he was equally convinced that an amicable solution to the Kashmir problem could be attempted only from a higher secular moral ground. The political discourse would have to be detoxed of its Gujarat-centric delinquencies.

It is possible to argue that it was only after the Gujarat carnage that the Vajpayee-Mishra duo embarked on seeking some kind of reconciliation with Pakistan, an effort that culminated in January 2004 in Islamabad. Mishra was painfully aware that the Advani-Modi faction had so precipitously damaged the social fabric throughout the country that our national security had become vulnerable. Sensible statecraft demanded engagement with Pakistan.

The second principle that Mishra believed in was that those who were fortunate enough to get the privilege of governing — or hope to govern — this country do not have the luxury of pettiness. History is witness that whenever a Prime Minister allowed his pique to get the better of sane impulses, the outcome has been a morally and politically inferior response. On a number of occasions he would hint how Prime Minister Vajpayee was under pressure from the NDA hotheads to use the state’s coercive instruments against political rivals; and, how he was able to help the Prime Minister ward off the sangh parivar’s efforts at dirty tricks. He once pronounced: “A Prime Minister of India has an obligation to decency and decorum.”

Like Haksar, Mishra was a great believer in centralisation of resources and power in pursuit of national ambitions and purpose. Just as Haksar helped Indira Gandhi accumulate power of oversight and co-ordination in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mishra helped Vajpayee restore the aura and authority of the PMO. Though Mr. Vajpayee’s circumstances were vastly different from those of Indira Gandhi, Mishra was aware of the toll that two years of the United Front government had taken of our national will. The wobbliness in the PMO had to be corrected and that is precisely what he achieved.

In his autobiography, My Country, My Life, L.K. Advani unwittingly reveals how efforts were made by him and others to cut Brajesh Mishra to size. The Kargil Review Committee Report was flaunted to argue that Mishra should not combine two roles — of Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser. Mr. Advani plaintively notes how Mr. Vajpayee stood by Mishra: “We repeatedly urged the Prime Minister to bifurcate the two posts held by Brajesh Mishra. Atalji, however, had a different view and did not implement this recommendation. It was, of course, the Prime Minister’s prerogative to do so. In my view, the clubbing together of two critical responsibilities, each requiring focused attention, did not contribute to harmony at the highest levels of governance.”

Command structure

Presumably neither Mr. Advani’s suggestion nor Mr. Vajpayee’s rejection of it was personal. At issue was a certain notion of a command and control structure that should be available to the Prime Minister of India. I remember vividly that within a few weeks of the UPA government coming to power in May 2004, Mishra told me crisply and precisely: “If you have any influence with the new crowd of our new rulers, please tell them to dismantle the disastrous trifurcation in the PMO.” The Manmohan Singh government had experimented with a three way division of Mr. Mishra’s responsibilities — a Principal Secretary (T.K.A. Nair), a National Security Adviser (J.N. Dixit) and a Security Adviser (M.K. Narayanan).

Mishra would have violently disagreed with Mamata Banejree who recently decreed that “India cannot be governed from New Delhi.” Inherent in Ms Banerjee’s formulation is an emasculated and enfeebled Centre. Mishra’s, on the other hand, hinged on a national mobilisation, not a fragmentation of political power; on a pan-Indian vision, rather than a region-centric calculus; and, on a summoning of our best civilisational instincts and traditions, rather than the sangh parivar’s shoddy feudal animosities. The Mishra-Vajpayee duo rescued the exercise of power from the BJP’s preference for pettiness and provincialism. It was a six-year long struggle between the two approaches and the balance perhaps tilts slightly against the Vajpayee-Mishra team.

Once the realisation dawned on the country that the BJP was not inclined to abide by the Vajpayee-Mishra approach, it was only a matter of time before the NDA was voted out of power.

(Harish Khare is a veteran commentator and political analyst.)

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Very smart!

from:  Jagannath
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 17:48 IST

Brajesh Mishra was the "Bharat Sarkar" in the Government, no doubt.

This article is a great tribute to the great man.

But I would like to point out here, to Mr. Khare and to The Hindu, whether India only means saying something against Mr. Modi, which now seems to have become an agenda of the Hindu.

The article seems to have missed out on other aspects of diplomacy.
Example that comes to mind is engagement with israel, with US.

On a further note, I think phrases like "the sangh parivar’s efforts at dirty tricks" should not be used by an Independent Newspaper of such high dignity like The Hindu

from:  Mangal Singh
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 15:41 IST

Did it ever occur to the author why no one was around to likewise forewarn him of the suspicious moves by hate-mongers to encage the group of Karsewaks in the compartment they were travelling from Ayodhya at Godhra railway station & burn them alive? Without giving a thought to it makes his presentation somewhat one-sided.

from:  S.P.AWASTHI
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 15:04 IST

sir, the article is nice but why now?Vajpayee and Brajesh misra-all administrators
and stalwarts,not like our present PM.but belting Advaniji in his article after the
demise of Brajeshji is unnecessary.

from:  kvl shanta
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 13:30 IST

More than 60 years since we had Independence, strategically what did our government do towards Social Integration ? People like Mr. Brijesh Mishra acted on Intelligence and solved one-time problems. Did they do anything strategically to keep up with India's vision to be a Castless society ? Increasingly, we see regional parties becoming stronger on regional, casteism and religious grounds deteriorating Social Integration.

from:  Venkatesh Kalla
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 12:47 IST

Why such article does not appear when these kinds of things are on move. After demise of Mr Mishra, many such article appeared in Indian news paper. Interestingly, hardly there is any difference between Congress I and BJP. Right wing politics of BJP only helped them to get this much of vote, otherwise, on what terms they were different from congress I and why should have public supported them. It is obvious that, once they came to power, they were bound to maintain the harmony and were unable to continue their divisive politics.
It does not means that only BJP does right wing politics. Most other political parties have done this kind of politics since Independence, either overtly or covertly from time to time.

from:  Aseem
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 12:33 IST

Very good article. People in power must take decision on merits only and in the larger interest of the country. People who were in agreement with Mishra or not should take leaf from his way of thinking as for running the affairs of the country is concerned.

from:  Madhusudan Namjoshi
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 11:40 IST

Author's tribute to one of the great bureaucrat is commendable.

But I strongly disagrees with the author's ending lines of Article.

The article on final passages attributes the loss of BJP to the differences of path followed by BJP and Vajpayee which according to me is far from truth.

I feel that the BJP lost power because it was not able to expand its territory of Influence beyond some areas, also it has lost its voice in most populous state of Uttar Pradesh which used to give them Lion share of Seats during previous decade.

from:  ramesh
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 11:08 IST

Vajpayee and brajesh were a constructive duo. Vajpayee's quite but firm leadership quality
earned brajesh's appreciation. In turn brajesh' bureaucratic shrewdness was appreciated by
vajpayee. They along with stalwarts like Advani steered the NDA.
We look forward to another successful stint of NDA.

from:  Swarna
Posted on: Oct 5, 2012 at 08:04 IST

With this kind of remarkable clout at the highest echelons in the
central govt. Mr. Khare should have solved so many law & order problems,
made India riot-and communalism free, etc. etc. and what not. Too bad
that the suffering ordinary Sikhs didn't have anyone of the stature of
Khare at Delhi to protect themselves from the Congress wallahs.

from:  kvjayan
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 19:38 IST

why it always happens that we know more about good people after they
don't exist between us? Is this something which relates to the kind of
society we belong to? Are we not opaque in our views as far our
advancement in information exchange is concerned?
Some prosperous empires are built on foundation of blood stains.
Where are we heading as an Incredible India?

from:  Amrut
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 18:31 IST

Mr. Harish Khare, no matter how you praise mr. mishra and atalji (great
leaders are they indeed and dont need certificate from family sycophant
like Khare) as your ex boss uses to do, you are not getting your job
back ! nor any rs seat.

from:  hrishikesh
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 15:53 IST

Excellent Article and a deep insight as to how things move on within the PMO. Shri.Mishra like Shri Vajpayee was a great statesman whose public life was cut short due to his adherence to the BJP and its ideologies. When BJP lost power in 2004 both were politically written off and their obituaries were made to their political life.

from:  P.S. Srinivas
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 15:04 IST

Mr Harish khare is well known for his anti-BJP stand on any issue.He can
never write objectively.Here in the present context,he appears to laud
Mishra-vajpayee duo but his main aim is to belittle BJP.His longstanding
'love' for Mr Advani is well known.One need not be a well wisher of BJP
to discern this. He has been outsourced by congress.Recently he wrote on
the honest PM.People know how honest he is.By the way how many will buy
his above story of saving 100 lives?
Does Mr Khare deserve the precious columns of The Hindu?

from:  S.Srinivasan
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 14:58 IST

Equity is given priority today, for overall development of our country
it is needed that resources should be developed where it is available.
Then only regional development and overall progress of the country is
possible. Hence centralization of resources in a geographically vast
country like us is not advisable on the context of changing world.
Nowadays there is more talk on devolution of power. Brajesh Misra's
philosophy of ruling in this context will be not appropriate. Because
of which today we have a Principal Secretary, a National Security
Adviser and a Security Adviser. This is good for health of the largest
democracy in the world.

from:  Monoj Hazarika
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 13:26 IST

Indeed a great article on national integrity and exposes the brutal facts how political parties are involved in provincialism and regionalism for their own benefits.Two major political groups,i.e NDA and UPA, both lack certain features to guide the country.UPA-II has been been exposed by corruptions recently and NDA has failed to upheld secularism nature of India.All these are obstructions for country's progress.Its time, both should understand their faults for the betterment of our nation.

from:  lalit
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 12:48 IST

The tribute to Mr Brajesh Mishra is in a way, also a tribute to the openness with which NDA cabinet colleagues conducted business. Kleptocrats who ruled the roost during UPA I & II had no big chances in Mr Vajpayee's cabinet. One key reason they made a neat exit right at the time of 2004 polls from the coalition to further their personal objective of selling national resources for a song and making a killing. We have hardly seen the UPA Prime Minister prevail at any time to bring in good governance. On the contrary he seems to have written to his cabinet colleagues long letters seeking assurance from them everything was above board and concluding only from their silence things indeed were.

from:  Mahadevan
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 12:44 IST

Late Brijesh Mishra was a veteran administrator who use to hold a
strong string of principals and accountability.It is the law of nature
that for any right deed there is also a counter view too specially in
a democracy like India Mishra has many audacious and ostensible
decisions during his tenure which seek praise and criticism both.His
idea of a strong center governance is also a reflection of our
constitution.I personally appreciate his workout during the Kandahar
hijack though it also drew the opposing view too from many.But it is
the vicious political cycle which decides the delegation of power for
the administrator.

from:  Mayank Kanga
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 12:31 IST

Harish Khare has indeed given a great tribute to Brajesh Mishra's vision of national integrity, almost equivalent to Sardar Patel's vision. It is extremely sad to see the current state of affairs at the Center where a fractioned national polity has led to increased regionalism. Not a day passes when almost all the leaders from regional powerhouses like UP, West Bangal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat assert regional supremacy over national federalism. Petty regionalism is a threat to national integrity. The unfortunate tryst is that all these regional leaders nurse hope of leading the nation one day in future. While it is good to have a band of strong leaders ready to take on national mantle in the future, they have to come out of regionalism and espouse nationalism in their regions. Unless this happens, national integration is at stake. Let sanity prevail.

from:  Dhurggaprasad
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 09:49 IST

An excellent take on a man who was a product of a civilisation whose very foundational values are multiculturalism amid tolerance for all.India's cultural infrastructure has consistently produced true statesman,and Brajesh Mishra was no exception.Another incident I remember is the decision against sending THE ARMY to help the US in its war of terrorism.

from:  abhishek kumar baranwal
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 09:49 IST

One wishes people in the present PMO,S Office feel similarly about their boss

from:  GANESAN
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 06:55 IST

Power is an intoxicating thing for anyone who has it. Since independence , Indian administration had been following a center-control model and the legitimacy of argument was often, national cohesion in a new country! This may have been somewhat acceptable at the time of the new Republic formation. That argument is no longer plausible and it is just an argument for the Center to have undue hegemony over the States. If one follows the true democratic principles, one has to follow those countries with such democratic essence in the administration of their countries. India is showing the reluctance to move into such desirable and necessary State autonomy for the better functioning of the principles of democracy and economic developments! The only reason behind it is, the Center's unhealthy need to be in control!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 05:11 IST

In a way, a nice tribute to Mr. Mishra who died recently. Rest in
Peace!!

from:  Sandeep
Posted on: Oct 4, 2012 at 04:02 IST
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