Wielding power came naturally to Brajesh Mishra, whose father, D.P. Mishra, was known for his decisiveness and ruthlessness as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. The younger Mishra rejected suggestions of inheriting the political legacy, and, instead, embraced diplomacy. But as a young foreign service officer, he had seen the humiliation of India in Beijing and other world capitals, and he had an ambition that India should sit at the high table of the world. As India's representative to the UN, he had seen India fritter away the advantages it had gained by liberating Bangladesh. He was drawn close to A.B. Vajpayee, who had become external affairs minister in the Janata government. Both had liberal views and free habits, far from the orthodoxy of the Sangh parivar. Mishra, who died on September 28, a day before his 84th birthday, decisively cut through complex agenda at meetings so that he would still have time to enjoy a couple of vodkas in the evening.
When Vajpayee became PM for the second time, both had already thought out what they would achieve on the strategic sphere. The chain-smoking Mishra was the one who had crystallised Vajpayee's dream of India becoming a nuclear weapon state. It was no wonder that he declared in 1998, after the Pokhran tests, that “only the PM and myself took the decision on when to conduct the nuclear tests”, excluding powerful ministers like L.K. Advani and George Fernandes. Mishra worked overtime to negate the effects of sanctions, and when the Indian high commissioner to South Africa L.C. Jain raised conscientious objections to the tests, Mishra immediately fired the Gandhian.
As the powerful principal secretary, who became India's first national security adviser, Mishra wooed France, Russia, Germany and Britain to ensure that the nuclear hawks of the United States did not cripple India economically. When he travelled to Moscow, the new democrats in the Kremlin tried to lecture him that India should not become a nuclear-weapon state. Mishra bluntly told his interlocutors that he had come to meet India's strategic friend, and not for morality classes.
Mishra allowed officials like N.K. Singh, R. Narayan and Ashok Saikia to take care of details of domestic policy, but ran the strategic warship by tight control on external affairs, defence, atomic energy and space ministries. He was a man whom Vajpayee trusted implicitly, with intelligence and military chiefs listening to Mishra.
His vast circle of friends in diplomacy ensured that he could find ways of getting difficult materials and technologies during sanctions. Germany once refused to sell a sophisticated camera to ISRO. Mishra, over a few telephone calls, ensured that the camera was routed through an African country.
He was a toughie whom Vajpayee asked to deal with difficult allies. When the AIADMK wanted the secretary of a ministry to be changed, Mishra retorted that the PM would rather change the minister's portfolio, than remove a good officer.
There could be only one Mishra, because there can be only one Vajpayee. They had a common wavelength which was rare to find in any other prime minister-principal secretary combination.