With the government in the throes of revamping the role of the national security advisor (NSA), here’s a new twist to the debate.
The first occupant of the post, Brajesh Mishra, believes it should be scrapped.
“I was never in favour of creating the post,” said Mishra, who was NSA in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. “Having a powerful national security advisor in the prime minister’s office means he is not accountable to Parliament. This is unacceptable in our system. I had suggested appointing a diplomatic advisor to the prime minister who would handle foreign policy-related matters.’’
Mishra’s remarks are significant in the context of an ongoing government exercise to recast the NSA’s role after incumbent MK Narayanan demits office to take over as West Bengal governor before Republic Day.
Narayanan had assumed vast powers over the years, bringing both external and internal security management under his control. Now, home minister P Chidambaram has seized the opportunity to push the streamlining of Narayanan’s omnibus portfolio and reclaim internal security management, including direct charge of intelligence agencies.
With internal security emerging as one of the foremost challenges of our times, it is argued that the home minister should be equipped with full powers to deal with the complexity of the task without getting caught in turf battles with a parallel institution in the PMO.
Mishra suggested that if the government wants to bring all security-related issues under one umbrella, it should consider creating a ministry for national security. “At least a security minister would be accountable to Parliament. He would answer questions and reply to debates.”
Interestingly, Chidambaram had come out with a similar proposal last month when he floated the idea of bifurcating the home ministry to create a separate ministry for internal security.
As the government mulls over what kind of a role it wants for Narayanan’s successor, one of the issues it is grappling with is the command of the country’s strategic programme. The nuclear button has to remain under the control of the prime minister and Narayanan as NSA was the interface between the PM and the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).
However, Mishra pointed out that when he was NSA, the executive wing of the NCA was handled by the principal secretary to the PM. As it happens, Mishra held dual charge of principal secretary and NSA. So it was mistakenly assumed that he monitored the country’s strategic programmes by virtue of being NSA.
“The plan that was approved by the government at that time never said the NCA executive wing should be the charge of the NSA. I had put it under the principal secretary so that the authority of the prime minister in all matters related to our nuclear programme remained supreme,’’ he said.