Mike misses the big party
Saturday August 23 2008 02:22 IST
We assume our nation is in the hands of the wise, the balanced, the judicious, the magnanimous, and the visionary. Instead,we find ourselves at the mercy of luminaries like the National Security Advisor, M K “Mike” Narayanan. No wonder that there are parts of our nation intent on tearing themselves apart.
Though Mike has so far escaped the opprobrium that commentators have heaped on Shivraj Patil (one called him Minister for Rome Affairs, so easy a target is he), this column cannot help but commiserate with Mike. Because of a bunch of damn protestors in Srinagar and in Jammu, he has had to miss out on the jamboree in Vienna,where India’s top minds were trying to convince the 45-member nuclear suppliers’ cartel to allow India to do nuclear commerce.
For Mike, the nuclear deal has been one long party. He got to travel the world, rub shoulders with the Americans, and soak in the limelight in Washington DC, Vienna, Singapore, and other world capitals — all the while trying to make the case for allowing India to inhabit an existential twilight zone where it would become the not-fullybut- only-sort-of-declared-yet-still-non-proliferating nuclear state.
As he has been dealing with an issue involving the ultimate currency of human power, you can’t blame Mike for feeling a bit like Major “King” Kong, the air commander who straddles a nuclear warhead as it is launched at the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or:How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. You can just picture Mike, a big missile between his legs, humming to himself: They like me in London/ They love me in Berlin/They hugged me in Moscow/And also in Beijing. It’s a heady thing.
It’s not surprising then that Mike does not have time for Kashmir, for Maoists, for Islamist terrorists, or even for the former Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf. (Come to think of it, even Mike’s boss doesn’t seem to have time for anything besides the nuclear deal. Come to think of it, who IS his boss — benefactor Sonia Gandhi or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Things are so murky, no wonder Mike prefers to hang out in Vienna rather than in the Valley.) The irony is that Mike, the only person to twice serve as the Intelligence Bureau’s chief, doesn’t even have time for India’s intelligence community.
No wonder, then, that one of our spies tried to kill herself. Nisha Bhatia of the Research and Analysis Wing had complained about a senior officer offering her money for sex (he was probably trying to exploit the fact she is a divorcée with children). At one point, Mike ordered an inquiry into her charges. After all, the accused had a history of complaints against him; he was thrown out of the RAW and sent back to his state cadre. Yet Mike is a busy man, with little time for the grinding wheels of justice; Nisha lost confidence in the panel and was “erratic” in her evidence, and she took the extreme step. The RAW’s response was to sack her. It has been a near-tragedy that Mike has no time for.
Things have been no better at the strategic intelligence agency itself,where the current chief, Ashok Chaturvedi, is a universally proclaimed dimwit. A couple of years ago, he was superseded by some good officers because he was seen as a potential liability. When Mike became NSA, he wanted to clean up the spy agency. He brought in a new chief, P K Hormese Tharakan, over the heads of long-serving, competent officers, one of whom took early retirement. Tharakan served out his term, the RAW remained as useless as ever, and then Mike played his master-stroke: he elevated Chaturvedi to the top job. This inexplicable move would not be so bad if, for the past four months,word had not spread that one of the IB’s best officers,Kashmir-specialist N Sandhu, was going to be the new RAW chief; not only has it not come to pass, but it has left the RAW, the IB, and even Sandhu, completely irritated.
One could argue that these are merely administrative matters, and that the real issue is Kashmir. It has been over four years since the UPA took power, and what has Mike done vis-à-vis Kashmir? For comparison, just look at the bad news, anti-Muslim BJP: as prime minister, A B Vajpayee made several gestures towards a political settlement, including a famous handshake offer in Srinagar to Pakistan; even his deputy L K Advani had two back-slappingly cordial meetings with the moderate wing of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
In addition, the Americans had leaned heavily on Musharraf to seal a deal with India on Kashmir. Musharraf was the first Pakistani head of government to openly state that borders could not be redrawn; Musharraf repeatedly called for “out-of-the-box” solutions; Musharraf privately leaned on the Hurriyat to seal a deal with India; and even Omar Abdullah, chief of the eternally mainstream National Conference, had a one-onone meeting with Musharraf during a March 2006 visit to Islamabad, and returned to India convinced that we should do business with “the General.”
The irony is that after Musharraf resigned on Monday, the ever-taciturn Narayanan told a Singapore newspaper: “Whether he is impeached or not is not important from the Indian point of view... that leaves a big vacuum, and we are deeply concerned about this... It greatly worries us…” Perhaps the protests in J&K woke Mike up to the fact that he had just missed a great window of opportunity (open long and wide from 2004 to 2008). The time was obviously spent wringing his hands over the nuclear deal; in the bargain, he neglected to hammer out a Kashmir policy. And now, things have spun so out of control that even Omar speaks of debating azadi instead of discussing autonomy.
Admittedly a Kashmir policy does not get formulated overnight, and though it took the NDA two years to have their own policy, each government’s approach does not vary too much from the others. (The NDA bettered even the USA, which always appears to begin working on the Palestinian problem in the final year of each Presidency.) Mike has not even attempted a Kashmir policy; after all, who has time for all those autonomy reports, expert committees, valuable suggestions and friendly advice? The people can’t be fooled forever, however, and if anger has exploded in both Srinagar and in Jammu over a barren 40 hectares, it’s because the people know they’ve been neglected by rulers who aren’t in the least bothered.
Mike has to thus stay home and pay the price for his neglect. As the nuclear deal nears being clinched, Mike’s buddies like Shivshankar Menon and Anil Kakodkar jetset to the cool climes of Vienna and Washington, while Mike has to douse the fires in Jammu and Srinagar. And poor fellow, he has no clue as to where to begin. This column has a suggestion. Mike, go and seek out the wise, the balanced, the judicious, the magnanimous, and the visionary; and let them run the firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author: Aditya Sinha is the Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express and is based at Chennai