External Affairs

Lost in the Agusta Din, Swamy’s Attack on Brajesh Mishra Was Reprise of Old Feud

Not many people have had such an opportunity to serve their country. When weighed in the balance of real life achievements, Mishra’s, to paraphrase a Chinese saying, are heavier than Mount Tai. Swamy’s will always remain lighter than a feather.

Brajesh Mishra and Donald Rumsfeld, 2001. Credit: Helene C. Stikkel

Brajesh Mishra and the US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, 2001. Credit: Helene C. Stikkel

You can trust Subramanian Swamy to lower the quality of any discourse, stir up the basest instincts, and stoop to the lowest level possible on any issue. His attack on Brajesh Mishra, barely disguised as innuendo, was missed by most reporters of the Augusta-Westland debate in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Surprisingly, no one from within the BJP or NDA has chosen to speak out in defence of one of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s closest aides.

Responding to the point by the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi that the height requirement of the Augusta helicopter was lowered in 2003 by Brajesh Mishra in 2003 who was the principal secretary to  Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Swamy noted, according to the uncorrected transcript of the Rajya Sabha proceedings,

“The question was raised as to who lowered it and they quoted Mr. Brajesh Mishra, who was a civil servant in the NDA Government. Of course, he was decorated by them. They gave him Padma Vibhushan, one less than Bharat Ratna. I was just wondering as to what was the service that required him to be given such a high honour. One day, I will discover it.”

The late Brajesh Mishra had his critics, but no one called him a Congress agent or even corrupt. He was doggedly loyal to the man he served as principal secretary and national security adviser, Atal Bihari Vajpayee who valued his judgment and advice enormously. And that is perhaps the reason for Swamy’s ire.

It is no secret that Swamy hates Vajpayee, a feud that apparently goes back to the days when the Janata government took office after the defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977.

Swamy has never forgiven Vajpayee for ensuring that he was not a full-fledged cabinet minister in the 1977 Janata government. Search “Swamy and Atal Bihari Vajpayee” in Google and you will find many old items and statements allegedly authored by Swamy making the most vulgar attacks on the former prime minister. Indeed, as this India Today story reveals, in March 1999, he held a tea party in Delhi where Sonia Gandhi was his guest of honour. The main aim was to bring down the Vajpayee government.

As long as Vajpayee was at the helm of the BJP’s affairs, there was no room for Swamy in its ranks. Those days are over and we have still to see what the post- Vajpayee BJP will deliver. All we can say is that it has huge shoes to fill and Prime Minister Modi knows that. Whenever he is confronted with a major problem – Kashmir, Pakistan or the nuclear issue, he invokes the Vajpayee legacy.

The irony is that when Swamy attacks Mishra, he is targeting the person who deserves the greatest credit for the achievements for which the Vajpayee government is remembered even today.

The aim of this write up is neither to analyse the Augusta deal, or to paint Swamy blacker than he already is. It is to point to the remarkable role played by Mishra, a role which was so full of achievement and, yet, balanced and sober, that even the successor UPA government saw it fit to honour him with a Padma Vibhushan.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Brajesh Mishra (R). Credit: PTI

To set the record straight, Brajesh Mishra was no “civil servant in the NDA government.” Since 1991, he had been a member of the BJP and its foreign policy cell where he grew close to Vajpayee who soon learnt to rely on his judgment and advice. Mishra formally resigned from the party to take up the office of principal secretary that Vajpayee offered him as soon as he formed his second ministry in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Vajpayee was an instinctive politician who had a unique ability to grasp an issue issue quickly, but thereafter he let his subordinates deal with the details.  Foremost among these was Mishra.

Perhaps Mishra’s greatest professional accomplishment was to ensure that India successfully carried out the nuclear weapons tests of May 1998. It was Mishra’s primary responsibility to coordinate the entire exercise once the PM ordered the tests and he did so brilliantly – ensuring total secrecy and surprise. Subsequently, Mishra shaped India’s nuclear policy and doctrine, wearing the additional hat of NSA.  Most people would consider Mishra’s post-Pokhran diplomacy as his finest hour. He managed to mollify Beijing which was upset by Vajpayee’s letter (drafted by Mishra) to the US president blaming China for the nuclear tests. He was able to blunt and then turn around the US anger and outflank European and Japanese  who were not happy with the Indian tests.

Mishra played a key role in working the finer details of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bold Kashmir policy which nearly managed to get the militants to declare a ceasefire. Vajpayee’s repeated calls for resolving the Kashmir issue on the basis of “insaniyat” was accompanied by policy measures effected by Mishra which ensured that the 2002 state assembly election, fought under the shadow of guns, was considered the freest ever and went a long way in ensuring that the Pakistani effort to roil the state through the Kargil operation failed.

Indeed, the management of the Kargil crisis, itself, brought out Mishra’s capabilities, as did the post parliament house attack developments in 2001. But even more striking was his stewardship of Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy to which Mishra helped the prime minister to stick on to through thick and thin and finally deliver, first, the ceasefire on the Line of Control which still holds, and second, the dialogue process with Islamabad which was subsequently taken up by the Manmohan Singh administration.

People should not forget, either, the breakthrough in the policy towards China which was crafted by the Vajpayee-Mishra duo. Agreeing to resolve the border issue on a political plane was a key shift which, once again, brought us within close sight of a possible border settlement with China, manifested in the agreement on the political parameters and guiding principles of a border settlement in 2005.

Like all men, Mishra, no doubt made mistakes such as mis-handling the Kandahar hijack or the 2002-3 crisis with Pakistan, but it must be said of him, that he was painting the big canvas. The events that he handled and the things he did reverberate in our contemporary history and whose benign consequences will be there for a long time.  Not many people have had such an opportunity to serve their country. When weighed in the balance of real life achievements, Mishra’s, to paraphrase a Chinese saying, are heavier than Mount Tai. Swamy’s will always remain lighter than a feather.

  • varun mehra

    I am reminded of one incident where a very senior journalist once asked Mr Mishra that he knows so much about government that he should write a book and share his experiences.Mr Mishra replied back-“I know so much that all this should go with me to my grave “.
    Such was his level of committment to the nation 🙂

  • ashok759

    The Agusta deal was processed during UPA rule. Right or wrong, they should justify / defend it on merits, without going back in time to the previous government and its NSA. 6,000 metres as an operational requirement is important because it takes the chopper beyond the range of shoulder fired SAMs. It should have been possible to get more than one firm to bid, without diluting this important requirement. Second, in any importantant purchase, not confined to defence, if only one product / manufacturer suits the national requirement, it should be possible to have robust negotiation procedures that can result in the right price being discovered and finalised. Instead, what we have are elaborate acquisition procedures, integrity pacts and almost every defence deal leads to serious allegations of impropriety.

  • Noor Sheriff

    Even when you give absolute power to these Brahmins, all they achieve is vilifying the previous brahmin. Bolo Bharat mata ki…

  • SUMIT KUKREJA

    How can modi make such a loose character as Rajya Sabha member. This guy Mr. Swami has no control over his words. He speaks very loosely.