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R&AW: Tales spies tell

A useful book by a former RAW officer, but marred by inaccuracies and salacious details. 

| by A.G. Noorani

( December 11, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) The author, a former officer in the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), has a lot to tell and tells his tales with abandon. His sincerity in exposing the rot within the agency to which he is devoted is not in doubt. But he pads his book with none-too-accurate historical accounts and mixes personal accounts with those narratives.

He suffered because he took up the cause of its employees, formed a union and spearheaded a 12-day strike at the RAW headquarters in 1980. Eighty employees were dismissed. Seven years later he succeeded in getting them reinstated. His plea for the agency’s accountability is sound.

The glee with which he records salacious details mars the book. The Chapter on “Sex Escapades” ends by telling the reader “there are other such numerous cases in R&AW which would need pages and hours to disclose before the public”.

Other and worthwhile disclosures in the book are certain to annoy the powers that be. The publishers were not deterred, fortunately. They had published Intelligence Bureau officer Maloy Krishna Dhar’s book Open Secrets.

These disclosures must be carefully assessed, for Yadav slips. He says twice that the I.B. was set up after Independence. The Charter of the I.B., which was also responsible for foreign intelligence until 1968, is a published document. It was set out in the Rules of Business, 1924, made under Section 40(2) of the Government of India Act, 1919. The I.B. was made responsible for “collecting, coordinating and supplying to all departments of the Government of India, either on its own initiative or on request, information relating to the security of India that may be of value to them in the discharge of their functions”.

It concentrated on domestic intelligence since the British Secret services looked after foreign intelligence. However, such was the high quality of the I.B.’s mark that studies on the communist movement in India by its successive Directors, Kaye Petrie and Williamson, are regarded as fairly authoritative and have been reprinted by communist publishing houses.

December 18, 1971: At a mass grave that was found near Dhaka. Photo:THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Bamford’s study of the Khilafat movement was also of high quality. The great Churchill was flatly told by the then Director, when his query was transmitted via the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, that there was no evidence in support of his suspicion that Gandhi had links with the Japanese.

But RAW’s charter, an executive order of September 21, 1968, yet remains unpublished. This rogue elephant sorely needs to be controlled by a stern, able mahout of a statutory charter.

RAW has fully lived up to what its acronym suggests. Its analyses, published by the Jain Commission, reveal sheer ineptitude. It was used for covert operations outside and within the country to destablise the Assam and West Bengal governments while its chiefs conducted secret diplomacy, to the chagrin of our Ambassadors. The agency became notorious for nepotism, financial scandals and betrayals. The author does a service in exposing them.

Consider two British statutes concerning MI5 and MI6. There is the Security Service Act, 1989, to counteract espionage at home. The Intelligence Services Act was enacted in 1994. It concerns collection of “information relating to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands”. It establishes an Intelligence and Security Committee of nine members besides a Tribunal to deal with complaints.

Careers of directors

There is some useful data; for example, a synopsis of the careers of 20 Directors (1968-2013). As for the rest, the author, who prides himself on his “brilliance, sincerity, hardworking…,” tends to be subjective.

RAW was not the brainchild of its first head, R.N. Kao, and nor was he its founder. It was P.N. Kasar. Only he, who fancied himself as an “intellectual”, could have given a spy agency the funny name of a Research & Analysis Wing (of the Cabinet Secretariat). He brought the I.B. also under his domain in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Dhaka, January 1972: At an arms surrender event, Mujibur Rehman comforts a mother who lost her son. Photo:The Hindu Archives
There are some useful nuggets. The Agartala Conspiracy Case was a genuine one. Sankaran Nair, Kao’s Deputy, admitted to Yadav in a recorded interview on May 28, 2005, that “prior to 1971 war of liberation of Bangladesh there was no mandate for the I.B. in East Pakistan except to supply arms to the agents and to train them on Indian territory to use these arms before launching them against the Pakistan Army for insurgency. … It is evidently true that Mujib was implicated in the Agartala Conspiracy Case at the instance of Pakistan Government. However, it is also true that other accused in this case were certainly agents of Intelligence Bureau of India but they were never instigated by I.B. to raid the armoury which they did on their own. This proved disastrous for them.”

Operations in East Pakistan

Kao masterminded the operations in the then East Pakistan from mid-1970 onwards.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked him to “finalise a blueprint for the insurgency activities inside East Pakistan to help the Bengali Muslims. Thereafter, R.N. Kao stepped up covert activities on the borders of East Pakistan. Many new check-posts of R&AW were opened to penetrate into the army set-up of Pakistan in those areas. Technical staff was also sent to these posts to monitor the wireless messages of Pakistan Army from Eastern wing to the Western part, and vice-versa. By the time the elections were declared to be held in Pakistan, R&AW was in full command to provide all internal assessment of East Pakistan.

“… Mrs. Indira Gandhi had planned to liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the dictatorial rule of the military junta of West Pakistan in case Mujib was not allowed to become Prime Minister of Pakistan. The first and foremost task Kao foresaw was to stop the overflight of Pakistan from West to East. Kao had planned other measures to stop these overflights when suddenly one Indian-origin Pakistani agent of ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] was caught by the BSF [Border Security Force] while crossing inside India. In a swift intelligence operation, Kao used this agent in his planning to stop the overflights of Pakistan.”

The Mukti Bahini

The Mukti Bahini was very much Kao’s “brainchild”. He also “managed” the referendum in Sikkim. “Kao told me that after the merger of Sikkim, he had a plan to disintegrate the Tarai area of Nepal because of increasing presence of China there much to the discomfiture of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.”

This is a useful book, rich in revealing episodes. No student of public affairs can neglect it.