Clueless in South Block – SM Krishna is yet to earn his spurs: DNA



New Delhi: When the dapper former chief minister of Karnataka took over the reins of the foreign ministry from the able Pranab Mukherjee, cynics pointed to his long gap from the Centre and doubted his ability to grasp the complicated issues of foreign policy. At 70-something, he seemed too old to handle the hectic schedule of travel/meetings the job entailed.

Many questioned the Prime Minister's wisdom in giving Krishna such a sensitive responsibility. Perhaps Manmohan Singh, who had delivered the India-US nuclear deal, felt he did not need an experienced foreign minister. He could manage with Krishna, a 10 Janpath loyalist, to execute polices laid down by the PMO.

Every Prime Minsiter, from Jawaharlal Nehru down to Atal Bihari Vajpyee, had a vision of foreign policy and had a say in directing it. But Vajpayee had the former foreign service officer, Brajesh Mishra to guide him. Jaswant Singh was extremely competent and the shadow boxing between Mishra and Jaswant was well known. Manmohan Singh had JN Dixit, a brilliant former foreign secretary, for his national security adviser, but his untimely death left Singh with MK Narayanan, a retired intelligence officer to help him. Natwar Singh again had a good grasp of foreign policy, though his views were somewhat dated. When Pranab Mukherjee came in to replace him, the ministry was in capable hands. The same cannot be said of the current incumbent.

As a former Fulbright scholar, Krishna is said to be an intelligent person. But sadly, in the two months or so he has been in South Block, there is little evidence of him grasping the complex issues he has to tackle.

On Thursday, during the debate on the Prime Minister's visit to Sharm-el-Sheikh, the chinks in Krishna's armour were clearly visible. The minister appeared ill at ease, rattling off his lines and avoiding the main issue of Pakistan and Balochistan on which the Opposition had attacked the government.

To be fair to Krishna, the Prime Minister had explained the rationale behind the joint statement and Pranab Mukherjee had spoken on Balochistan. So Krishna instead focused on Sri Lanka and other matters which were of little relevance. But why was Pranab Mukherjee brought in to defend the PM? Is it because his words are taken more seriously?

Foreign service officers in private are astounded by Krishna's inability to grasp important issues but say perhaps he needs more time. The junior ministers have also so far not shown much élan. Shashi Tharoor is a suave international diplomat, but hisremarks about the joint statement being nothing more than a diplomatic paper, shows how little he knows about the workings of the Indian foreign ministry. All this merely gives the PMO the clout they need to take over the reins from the ministry.