Assume that it was suddenly revealed that Home Minister Shivraj Patil had held 20 secret meetings with the Pakistani High Commissioner. There is no law that prevents a minister of the Government of India from meeting a foreign diplomat. But these meetings were nevertheless entirely clandestine, organised through a media person and conducted in a cloak-and-dagger manner. Assume also that Mr Patil did not think it necessary to keep the National Security Advisor (NSA) or the Prime Minister’s Office informed of these meetings. Nor did he bother to keep the Foreign Minister in the loop. How do you suppose the media would react? What would the BJP say about a foreign policy that was conducted in this individualistic, secretive fashion? It does not take much to guess.
So, how does L.K. Advani explain the many secret meetings he held with the Pakistani High Commissioner? These negotiations led directly to the fiasco of the 2001 Agra Summit. But far from being embarrassed about his government’s style of conducting foreign policy, Mr Advani is proud of his role as the secret negotiator of Pandara Road. He brags about the meetings in his book and does not find it at all odd that the Home Minister of India should be conducting his own foreign policy independent of those actually entrusted with that responsibility. Nor have the people whose job this was — chiefly, Brajesh Mishra who was the NSA, and Jaswant Singh, who was the Foreign Minister — offered any clarifications.
Perhaps this is because the NDA government specialised in a style of secretive and freelance diplomacy. Each time there is an uproar over the BJP’s stand on the nuclear deal, we fall back on Strobe Talbott’s account of his meetings with Jaswant Singh to understand how the party felt when it was in office. Jaswant Singh himself has offered no account whatsoever of those meetings. Nor did George Fernandes, Defence Minister in the last government, feel any embarrassment in pursuing his own Myanmar policy in complete opposition to the stated policy of the Government of India, even offering shelter to Myanmarese dissidents in his official residence. Mr Advani’s book offers us an insight into the NDA’s each-for-himself style of foreign policy formulation. Perhaps it is an augury of the future should the BJP return to office.