I got to know Brajesh Mishra after the fall of the Vajpayee government. Before that he was somewhat wary of me. Afterwards, he never refused an interview. In fact, occasionally, when he had something important to say, he would even tip me off. At such times we would ‘collaborate’ and the result was never disappointing. I owe him a big thank you.
However, the biggest favour he did me was in February 2000 when Gen Pervez Musharraf, six months after Kargil and three months after his coup, agreed to an interview. This was clearly a scoop but would Doordarshan, the channel I made programmes for at that time, show it? To be honest, I was doubtful.
I decided to seek Brajesh Mishra’s advice. “You and I know Doordarshan will do what it’s told”, he said with blunt and disarming candour and a knowing smile on his face. “What matters is what sort of interview it is.”
Was this a hint? I assumed it was and asked him what sort of interview it should be. Should I draw him out? Should I interrogate him? And how aggressive did it need to be?
I can never forget Mr Mishra’s reply. “What you have to do is challenge him. Now, to do that you have to let him speak. But, then, you must have a response to every point he makes. Don’t let him get away with what he’s saying.”
That, in fact, is what a good interviewer should anyway do. Brajesh Mishra understood the role perfectly. But before I could say anything, he continued. “Don’t interrupt too much. We need to hear what he’s saying. And don’t be rude. That’s unnecessary and it can be counterproductive.”
Although he did not say so, I could sense Mr Mishra wanted this interview to happen. The critical test was that it must not become a platform for the Pakistani dictator. It had to be challenging. It had to be tough.
When I got back from Islamabad I sent him a VHS of the interview. When I rang the next morning to ask what he thought of it he said he hadn’t seen it but his tone and manner suggested he had. What followed convinced me I was right.
“Have you told the press about this interview?” he asked. The question surprised me because broadcast had not been cleared and I had no assurance it would be. Doordarshan, after all, is government controlled. “Yes, yes, I know that”, Mr Mishra interrupted. “If I were you I’d let people know.” Then, after a pause, he added sotto voce: “And tell them when it will be shown.”
Now I was certain Mr Mishra was steering me. He was suggesting a strategy that would make it awkward, even difficult, to deny broadcast but without in anyway saying it would be cleared.
Naturally, I followed his advice. PTI put out a small story that the interview would be broadcast the next day. The Indian Express front paged it. And then the drama began. A battle waged within the government over whether it should be shown. Various ministers — and the Army Chief — asked to see it. I assumed they all had a say in whether it would be cleared.
At 7 in the evening I rang Mr Mishra. I could tell he was chuckling when he came on the line. “I know you’ve rung to ask if I’ve seen the interview. I haven’t but I’ll catch it tonight on TV.”
Views expressed by the author are personal