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Dixit steps into Brajesh shoes
- Former diplomat named security adviser

New Delhi, May 26: J.N. Dixit was always the frontrunner for the post of national security adviser in the Congress-led coalition. Today, the appointment was formally announced.

Soon after the swearing-in, external affairs minister Natwar Singh had asked the former foreign secretary not to go out of the capital as he had an important assignment for him.

“Dixit has been appointed as national security adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office for a period of three years or till further orders, whichever is earlier,” the announcement said. “During his charge as national security adviser, Dixit will enjoy the rank of a minister of state.”

Soon after the announcement, he called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and sat in on a couple of meetings. He refused to say what was discussed. “I take my new assignment with a sense of heavy responsibility and feel privileged to serve this government,” Dixit said.

The retired bureaucrat is a recent entrant to the Congress. In this election, he drew up the Congress agenda on national security and foreign policy. Dixit had earlier said that he took the decision to join the party after the Gujarat riots.

He will take over tomorrow.

Other names doing the rounds to step into Brajesh Mishra’s shoes were that of former Intelligence Bureau director M.K. Narayanan and former foreign secretary Salman Haider.

But the high-profile Dixit was way ahead of the others. He was India’s man in Colombo when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and the Indian forces were sent to the island to hold a fragile peace agreement in place. Though things went horribly wrong, Dixit proved he could work in high-pressure situations and continue to defend the Indian position.

At a time when Indians were disliked in Sri Lanka, the local media was hostile to Dixit. They referred to the rotund, safari suit-clad pipe-smoking high commissioner as “India’s viceroy in Colombo”.

The next posting was in Islamabad, where he held another high-pressure job.

Earlier in his career, Dixit had been Indira Gandhi’s first envoy to Dhaka after Bangladesh was created in 1971.

Dixit served as foreign secretary under P.V. Narasimha Rao, when economic diplomacy and India’s “look east” policy were initiated. It was also at that time that India finally came to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, with both countries opening missions in each other’s capitals. Earlier, Israel had operated from a consulate in Mumbai.

A tough-talking diplomat, Dixit is regarded as a hawk on nuclear issues and is known for taking a hard stand on some of the smaller neighbours. Sri Lanka’s Tigers will not be happy with his elevation.

But as national security adviser, Dixit will not be as powerful as predecessor Brajesh Mishra who combined his job with that of principal secretary to the Prime Minister and was one of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s closest confidants.

The Congress-led coalition had made it clear that it would appoint a full-time national security adviser. The post has assumed greater importance since India became a nuclear power in May 1998. In the last government, Mishra was the key man for dialogue on security with the nuclear nations — US, Russia, China, France and UK. Discussions with several other nations have always been at the level of the national security adviser.

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