NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears set to replace his National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan with a former top diplomat. With the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) increasingly proactive in formulating the country’s foreign

policy, the change is intended to help provide the Prime Minister with detailed nuances of various foreign policy options over the next few years.

Before Narayanan assumed the job of NSA, the two occupants of the post were both

former diplomats, with years

of experience in foreign policy; Brajesh Mishra, appointed by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who created the post given the new moorings of foreign

policy, and JN Dixit, former foreign secretary, whom Singh appointed in 2004. Dixit died early in 2005, after which Narayanan, then internal security adviser, became the NSA.

While Narayanan, with his expertise in internal security and particularly in tackling the growing menace of Naxalism, appears headed for Kolkata as Governor of West Bengal, his replacement at the PMO is likely to be former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon.

The former top diplomat, who has served as India’s envoy to Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan, is expected to help steer Indian policy into the new decade. Along with current Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, also a China expert, Menon could bring a new perspective to conduct of relations with an increasingly confident and assertive China, probably the major challenge facing Indian foreign policy today.

India’s NSA conducts a high-level political dialogue with Chinese Vice Premier Dai Bingguo on ways to arrive at a settlement of the disputed boundary issue between the two countries. Also, with India having a strategic partnership with a large number of countries, including the United States, China, Russia, the European Union, Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia among others, the role of the NSA is increasingly within the domain of strategic foreign policy.

Internal security has increasingly been taken over by the Home ministry, with Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram seen as very capable, thus reducing Narayanan’s role in the area of his expertise.

Chidambaram has moved

to centralize India’s responses

to and proactively tackle

major internal security challenges like cross-border terrorism and naxalism under the purview of his ministry.

Narayanan has faced considerable criticism for failing to thwart a series of terrorist attacks, culminating in the 26/11 Mumbai outrage.

Also in contention for the post are another former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, a former envoy to Nepal and currently in the PMO as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on climate change issues and the environment. Another former top diplomat and former envoy to the US, Russia and Britain Ronen Sen who, along with Saran and Menon, was instrumental in clinching the India-US civilian nuclear deal, is also in the reckoning.

With Indian foreign policy having moved away considerably from the Nehruvian era of non-alignment towards a more pragmatic approach of what the Prime Minister calls “enlightened national interest”, the new NSA’s role will be crucial in shaping India’s foreign policy outlook and vision for the next decade.