Brajesh Mishra's dual obsession               Virendra Kapoor
   June 12, 2002

Brajesh Mishra The threat of war has receded for the time being but the ruling establishment is convinced it would be folly to lower its guard, given the perfidious record of the ruling military junta in Islamabad.

The toning down of war rhetoric on both sides is unlikely to result in any immediate demobilisation of troops from the borders. New Delhi's strategy against Pakistan's not-so-sly export of terrorists into India is two-pronged and includes both coercive diplomacy and a menacing military presence at the border.

It is a strategy that seems to have paid off. Pakistan stands isolated in the international community and its military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has come under further pressure from Islamic groups and mainline political parties for having allegedly messed up that nation's 13-year-old Kashmir policy, which envisaged the annexation of Kashmir by fomenting civil strife in the valley.

Musharraf finds himself in an unenviable position: if he does not behave, he gets his ears tweaked by the leaders of the Western world; if he behaves, he is pilloried by jihadi groups at home who accuse him of having succumbed to the pressure exerted by India and her Western friends.

It would suit India immensely to continue keeping the glib-talking but highly unreliable general under pressure. He is no friend of this country and India should not make things easy for him, now that the same jihadi groups on whom he had leant for support after having virtually banned all legitimate political activity are making things hot for him.

This is why, despite a lowering of tensions and a reduction in the threat of war, the strategic community believes India will have to remain in a state of battle readiness for several months. The Jammu and Kashmir assembly election is due in October and there are reliable intelligence reports that Pakistan will try and foil the election process. Even if Musharraf does not order mayhem in Kashmir, the Indian intelligence community believes rogue elements in the Inter Services Intelligence and other jihadi elements made redundant by the US-led war in Afghanistan would try and perpetrate violence in J&K.

Given that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is unlikely to vanish in a hurry, and that normalisation in Kashmir ought to be the top priority of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, India's strategic community is of the view that an ad hoc approach to national security will not do. Though Vajpayee has revived the long-moribund National Security Council, he is yet to fully appreciate the need for a full-time national security adviser. At present, his principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, handles the post. At least two senior Cabinet ministers have suggested a full-time national security adviser, but Vajpayee continues to remain noncommittal on the issue.

Even Defence Minister George Fernandes is of the view there should be a full-time national security adviser. But Mishra continues to cling to the two key posts. It was only during the wake of the tehelka scandal that he temporarily faced pressure to quit one post.

Should the renewed pressure on the prime minister mount further, Mishra may yet be made to shed one of his posts. Significantly, since Vajpayee is not a details man and tends to rely mostly on Mishra for vital decisions, it is Mishra who for all purposes rules in the prime minister's name.

Sinha secures Finance

Yashwant Sinha The clouds of war led to the postponement of the much-speculated reshuffle of the Union Cabinet. Now, it seems, it may have also saved Yashwant Sinha his job as finance minister.

Before war hysteria gripped the sub-continent, there was speculation that Sinha was on his way out. Now, Vajpayee no longer seems to keen on transferring him. How can we tell with certainty? Well, because Sinha is informing all and sundry that reports regarding his impending ouster are baseless and that he has been assured on that count by none other than Vajpayee.

As Sinha tells it, he was so fed up with the speculation that he got hold of a copy of a Mumbai-based afternoon daily, which had first taken note of this conjuncture in circles close to the PM, and asked Vajpayee if he had lost faith in him. Vajpayee, according to Sinha, laughed loudly and assured him, "Is mein kuch nahin hain, aap apna kaam kariye [There is no basis for these reports; please continue with your work]."

Mahajan, Shourie say tata

Divestment Minister Arun Shourie is embroiled in a controversy over Tata-controlled VSNL's decision to invest Rs 1,200 crores (Rs 12 billion) in Tata Teleservices. When Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan attacked the decision and a section of the press blamed Shourie, the former journalist-turned-politician activated his network in the Sangh Parivar.

Shourie first took his case to Home Minister L K Advani and, later, to BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthy. Since party spokesman Sunil Shastri and the man in charge of the BJP's economic cell Jagdish Shettigar had questioned the VSNL decision, Shourie sought them out as well to explain the correctness of his stand.

Shourie wanted the two to sit with him when he met the press later that day to counter the charges they (Shastri and Shettigar) had levelled against the Tata-led VSNL board the previous afternoon. But Krishnamurthy came to their rescue and the two did not show up at Shourie's press conference.

Legally and ethically, there is nothing wrong with VSNL's decision to invest in Tata Teleservices. Politically, the decision is bound to prove counter-productive. It could hamper the divestment process.

Mahajan's protest against VSNL's investment in Tata Teleservices is widely seen as reflecting the stand of Tata Teleservices' business rivals, who fear a cash-rich adversary might pose stiff competition.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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