I do not know whether Brajesh Mishra would have approved of the outpouring of sentiment and nostalgia that his passing away has evoked. But I am sure that he would have understood it, and may even have sympathised with it. For beneath his gruff and sometimes forbidding , demeanour, there lurked a fundamental kindness and decency, tempered by a wry and acerbic sense of human frailty.
He was the quintessential realist, untrammelled by ideology and preconceived notions, who took the world as he found it, in not very good or appealing shape, and worked it to his country’s purposes. For above all things he was a patriot, of the old-fashioned kind, with a strong sense of the national interest and the national purpose to build a strong and prosperous India, which would enable us to control our own fate.
In this quest he was tireless. But his was no unthinking nationalism, no take-no-prisoners and the devil-take-the-hindmost kind of patriotism. In the Foreign Service, and later in the world, his negotiating skills were legend. Many of us here have stories about his negotiating skills. Having watched him negotiate with the Chinese during a secret visit in November 2000, and with Tariq Aziz in Islamabad in 2004 before the Vajpayee visit, I asked him over an evening drink how he negotiated. His reply was, as always, simple, practical and direct. “Always give the other man something to take away from the table. As little as possible, but something. Otherwise he has no interest in doing what he has promised you.”
In each of his diplomatic achievements, whether re-engaging with the major powers after the 1998 nuclear weapon tests, building the strategic partnership with the United States, or reaching out to Pakistan in 1999 and 2004, or the free trade agreement with Sri Lanka in 2000, this was the principle he followed.
As someone whose job was created by Mishra, I am also acutely aware that we owe the present shape of our national security structures in very large part to his energy, and that of his collaborators. He built to last. When these structures were reviewed after 10 years by a Task Force, they actually suggested more of the same rather than a radical restructuring.
That so much was achieved in such a short time by him is truly remarkable, and tribute to the partnerships he built, with Mr. Vajpayee, with K. Subrahmaniam, and with countless others, of all ages and across party lines. The relationship with PM Vajpayee was truly unique and the true root of much of his achievement.
Of course there will be regrets at his passing. For the un-drunk bottle of whisky that I had saved for his recovery from surgery. For the unwritten book that I pressed him for, until he said that he would not write a book that was not honest and that there were truths he could never reveal. And most of all for the advice that we had got used to relying upon.
But instead of regrets today, let us give thanks for his productive life, a life that was lived well, and by his own demanding standards. Let us also be grateful that he enjoyed the ultimate blessing — that he passed away with the same dignity with which he lived his life. That, I think, is how he would have wanted to be remembered.
(Shivshankar Menon is the National Security Adviser.)
This is the text of the remarks he made at a memorial meeting for Brajesh Mishra in New Delhi on Oct. 8, 2012.