No intelligence service can perform well if its political masters lack the integrity which alone can inspire it to act straight.
No intelligence service can perform well if its political masters lack the integrity which alone can inspire it to act straight. By A.G. NOORANI
INDIAN furores, over scandals or other matters, fizzle out before long. Partisan reactions, neglect of the institutional aspect, and indifference to reform characterise most reactions. One hopes that the very justified furore on the surveillance over Subhas Chandra Bose’s kin and snooping on their mail will prove an exception. Already the establishment has dug its feet on the reform of the Official Secrets Act and on legislation to bridle the intelligence services. It remains to be seen how many files are not opened to public inspection. The Right to Information Act, 2005, applies in full vigour. The Central Information Commission, one hopes, will not disgrace itself by the kind of disingenuous, if not worse, ruling given by the Bench headed by Wajahat Habibullah. He cited inter alia his partiality towards the Army—as if he was the sole judge and his colleague, who did not have a father in the Army, was a cipher.
On Independence, India inherited from the British a first class Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), honest, competent and immune to political manipulation. The powerful Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s inquiry as to whether Gandhi was in cahoots with the Japanese was answered with a categorical “no” on September 14, 1942. He personally asked Leopold Amery, Secretary of State for India, for “a note on Mr. Gandhi’s intrigues with Japan”. Three days later Amery replied, no doubt after inquiries in New Delhi: “The India Office has no evidence to show, or to suggest, that Gandhi has intrigued with Japan” (The Transfer of Power; Volume 2; pages 961 and 978).
The I.B. was manned by men of high calibre. The studies they produced for internal consumption conformed to high tests of scholarship and rank as works of reference. P.C. Bamford, Deputy Director, wrote in 1925 Histories of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements. It was reprinted in 1974 by Deep Publications, Delhi. Edition Indian, Calcutta, reprinted I.B. Directors’ studies Communism in India in three volumes which were studied in Communist study classes. Sir Cecil Kaye’s work was published with an introduction by Meghnad Saha of Asiatic Society. Kaye retired in 1925 and died in Delhi 10 years later. He was succeeded by Sir David Petrie, who retired in 1931. Petrie served as Director of MI5, the Security Service, in London, during the Second World War. Sir Horace Williamson served as Director of the I.B. until 1936.
All the volumes are based on confidential material, including intercepts. They are free from official jargon and are strikingly objective with flashes of wit. “Communism has come to stay,” Williamson opined. “For a time” Bhagat Singh “rivalled in popularity… Mr. Gandhi himself”.
Compared with them, the first two Directors of the I.B. in independent India were men of straw. T.G. Sanjeevi Pillai, a 49-year-old District Superintendent from Madras Province, was a weird choice as the first Director. In July 1950, he was succeeded by his Deputy, B.N. Mullik, who became “one of Prime Minister Nehru’s most trusted advisers” and a pliable tool of the Deputy Prime Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, who was also the Home Minister and in charge of the I.B.. Mullik served disastrously for 14 long years. He was earlier but a police officer in Saran District in Bihar, which saw some of the worst communal riots. His three books in the series My Years With Nehru cover Kashmir, China and the period between 1948 and 1964. He was communal-minded and had a communist phobia, which endeared him to Patel.
The I.B. was suborned and subverted for political ends, mainly by Patel. Ministerial responsibility is of two kinds—actual and constructive. Patel was highly culpable on both counts. Nehru was also culpable, but his active role was less. His excessive reliance on Mullik influenced his policies on Kashmir as well as China.
Patel’s misuse of the I.B.Patel grabbed the I.B. with all the abandon of a famished man at a banquet. Penderel Moon remarked that Congress leaders were “avid for power”. Patel’s abuse of the I.B. is as shocking as it is well documented in the volumes of Sardar Patel’s Correspondence. On February 6, 1948, he sent Nehru a “copy of a secret report” allegedly on the Socialist Party’s decision “to exploit the situation created by this tragedy (Gandhi’s assassination) to gain power in the Congress organisation and the government”. Not long thereafter, the Socialists had to quit the Congress after Patel indicated that there was no room for them. Anyone who could accuse Jayaprakash Narayan of conspiratorial activity revealed his stripes. The note itself had give-away sentences. “It was decided to launch a regular crusade against Sardar Patel” and a charge sheet had been drawn up against him (Volume 6; page 33). This palpably contrived document was a laboured attempt by Patel to defend himself on the charge of responsibility for the tragedy, a finding endorsed by Justice J.L. Kapur’s Commission of Inquiry, albeit without citing Patel himself.
One must ignore snooping or postal interception for raison d’etat. But Patel thought nothing of interceptions which had no clear public purpose. On July 15, 1949, he confidently sent to Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru a copy of Sir B.L. Mitter’s letter to Sir Mirza Ismail “which was seen during censorship”. None was legally in force, of course. This is what Mitter, now in retirement, wrote in confidence to his friend and former colleague: “Bengal is very badly off. The government is a dictatorship of Dr. B.C. Roy, whose colleagues (with the exception of N.R. Sarkar, who is a sick man) are worse than dirty jackals, out to feed on any carrion. Dr. Roy’s integrity is openly challenged and his dissolute private life is the talk of the town. He has taken his mistress (and her husband) with him to Switzerland, all at public expense. To justify this, it is announced that at the end of his treatment in Switzerland he will go around some industrial centres in Europe” (Volume 8; page 312). All this was revealed also by a cerebral leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
How did the interception of such correspondence fall within the remit of the I.B. and how justified was its circulation by Patel? Both Mitter and Mirza Ismail were foremost in advocating the accession of the States to India. On March 4, 1949, Patel sent Nehru “a copy of the letter Ashutosh Lahiri is reported to have written to [V.D.] Savarkar. You will notice that the lady referred to therein is reported to be in active contact with you for the purpose of changing your mental outlook and a belief is expressed that higher powers are guiding the destiny of India, together with the hope that this new contact, if it effectuates, might lead to quite new developments. I should like to know if you have experienced any influence of the ethereal inspiration and whether the new contact has been responsible for any new development” (Volume 8; page 116).
Patel clearly enjoyed reading such stuff. The I.B.’s report did not justify his glee at all. All that the long letter said about Nehru was this: “She paid a visit to Delhi a number of times and she addressed a private conference of some MLAs including Messrs. K M. Munshi (Patel’s friend), Purshottam Das Tandon, Anantasayanam Ayyangar, Seth Govind Das and others at the residence of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. She created a deep impression on everybody and some of them are in active contact with her. She is working for changing the mental outlook of the outstanding Congress leaders and for that purpose, she has also been in active contact with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.” The reference to “higher powers” is Lahiri’s comment, not the lady’s claim.
To be sure, the Raj snooped and shadowed freely. But its interests were political, not salacious. They took particular interest in the Congress leaders’ finances. “Even Bose’s financial resources were independent of those of the ‘Gandhians’. The main sources of funds open to the ‘right-wing’ leaders were donations from Indian businessmen negotiated by Patel, [Bhulabhai] Desai, Bajaj and G.D. Birla. There was also the capital and interest on certain special appeal funds and the loans that could be raised on them. Nehru had no independent resources; he was completely dependent on the ‘Gandhians’ for money. Bose’s sources of income were smaller, but they were genuinely his own. He could rely on payments for favours shown to Bengali businessmen by the Bengal P.C.C. and the Calcutta Corporation (as long as he controlled these bodies) and on ‘protection money’ from large industrial magnates in Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa, given in return for good labour relations. He also had support from a group of non-Bengali businessmen, headed by the Delhi mill-owner Shankar Lal, and could use the funds of the Tropical Insurance Company (of which he and his brothers were directors and Shankar Lal Managing Director) to stabilise his finances. From these sources Bose managed to raise Rs.50,000 simply for the expenses of his delegates and canvassers at Tripuri.” How much would Rs.50,000 of that time be worth in 2015?
Things went so far that the Governor-General had to pull up Patel, albeit gently in the name of Nehru. Patel had sent Rajaji a “copy of daily report from the Central Intelligence Officer, Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur dated 3 November 1950” to the I.B.’s Director on Cabinet Minister Rafi Ahmad Kidwai’s visit to Jabalpur. Rajaji wrote on November 11, 1950: “I saw this report sent by [Home Secretary H.V.R.] Iyengar at your instance. PM may object that we have no right to get Intelligence men to watch Ministers of Cabinet. But the fact remains that the Minister is actively fomenting differences. The passage I have marked with blue pencil is interesting.”
Patel’s reply in cover up on November 13 made a manifestly false and absurd claim: “The report need not necessarily have been the result of any CID officers keeping the Minister under watch. I know for a fact that no officer of the Central Intelligence Bureau was detailed for the purpose. As you know, such things cannot remain secret.” The heading of the Note itself attributed it to the I.B. The contents testify to the I.B.’s own work.
Thus the I.B. was abused for blatantly political ends in the early years of the nation’s freedom by a Home Minister with reckless disregard for proprieties. These few instances reveal the tip of an iceberg that grew menacingly over the years.
Run-up to Gandhi’s murderPatel became Home Member of the Governor-General’s Executive Council in 1946 in the interim government. What prompted him to recruit Sanjeevi and Mullik as Directors of I.B.? Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, who were granted free, unprecedented access to police records, focussed on Gandhi’s murder. This is what they wrote of independent India’s first Director of I.B. It bears quotation in extenso. His deputy then was the ailing Deputy I-G of Police, Delhi, D.W. Mehra. “A tacit accord existed between the two men. Sanjevi had arranged to be assigned the top job in Delhi because, as he explained to Mehra, ‘before I retire I want a flag flying on my car, a jeep escort and a guard presenting arms when I get to the office’. He got that by making himself Delhi’s police chief, but he had always left running the police to Mehra. Now, to Mehra’s surprise, Sanjevi bluntly informed him: ‘Don’t bother about the Madanlal case. I’ll handle the investigation myself’.’ …
“From the moment he had taken on the case, a puzzling lack of zeal had characterized D.J. Sanjevi’s handling of it. He was a vain, secretive man and he had watched over the investigation with an obsessive jealousy that made him hostile to any attempt on the part of his subordinates to become involved. He had rebuffed even the efforts of his senior aide to join the investigation.
“He now had in Madanlal’s confession the material needed rapidly to establish the identity of at least five of the six men involved in the conspiracy. Yet no one from the Delhi police, no one from his office, ever made the rudimentary gesture of consulting the list of Bombay Province newspapers in which [Nathuram] Godse’s name was to be found. Nor did anyone question the Hindu Mahasabha official whose text had been found in the Marine Hotel and who had known Apte and Godse for almost a decade. He did not communicate the information contained in Madanlal’s confession by urgent courier to Nagarvalla in Bombay. Even worse, he made no effort to contact the Poona police by telephone to ask the identity of the editor of the Hindu Rashtra. He was the author of a series of acts of such staggering incompetence, so close, finally, to being criminal in nature, that a quarter of a century later India would still be wondering how they could have happened. …
“He would claim his bizarre behaviour had been inspired by the attitude of the man in charge of the investigation. If one overwhelming certainty determined Sanjevi’s actions, it was his belief the killers would never come back. He dismissed them as a bunch of crackpots. His was the innate conviction that after the lamentable fiasco of 20 January, they would never raise the courage to strike again. He was wrong. Time was running out on Sanjevi and the 78-year-old leader who had so narrowly escaped death at Birla House five days before. What Sanjevi’s investigation needed was the thing it lacked above all, a sense of urgency” (pages 412, 419-21). He was not punished.
The Kapur Commission on the Gandhi Assassination found that the anxiety of the officialdom in New Delhi to take any intelligent interest in the investigation of the bomb case was not indicated by any tangible evidence (Para 23:23:259). To Nehru, Patel claimed on February 27, 1948: “I have kept myself in daily touch with the progress on the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case” (SPC; Volume 6; page 56). If he had exerted himself thus before the deed, right from January 20 when Madanlal Pahwa exploded the bomb, the entire conspiracy would have been exposed and Gandhi would not have been killed 10 days later.
On any reckoning—constitutional or moral—a Minister who is so culpable would have resigned or would have been made to resign. Three factors saved Patel—his unquestioned devotion to Gandhi; his political stature; and his skills as an administrator. But, as we have seen, he never forgave critics like JP.
If sheer neglect marked Patel’s attitude towards Sanjeevi, hyper-exertion marked his behaviour towards his successor, B.N. Mullik. He was “domesticated” and completely suborned. Appointed as DIB on July 15, 1950, he was handpicked by Patel “over the heads of nearly thirty officers senior to me in the IP (Indian Police) cadre and had reposed his full trust in me and had supported the I.B. in its earlier difference with the Prime Minister” (Mullik; My Years With Nehru: 1948-64; page 59). He records, incidentally, that both Acharya Kripalani and Rajaji had complained to Nehru, respectively, over surveillance and mail censorship (page 65).
Patel warned Mullik as early as in 1949, when he was Deputy Director, that “I would soon be obliged [sic] to change my favourable opinion about him (Sheikh Abdullah)”; (Kashmir; page 197). There is a detailed account of the entire process of conversion.
Mullik returned from a trip to Kashmir with a favourable opinion of the Sheikh. “On my return to Delhi, I prepared my report on the above lines and sent it to the Director, who passed it on to the Home Secretary, H.V.R. Iyengar. As both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister had desired an impartial assessment to be made of the political situation as existed in Kashmir at that time, and as Kashmir was being dealt with by Pandit Nehru himself, the Home Secretary passed on copies of the report to both of them. I was not aware of this nor of the fact that the Prime Minister had considered the report to be an impartial assessment of the situation in Kashmir, and had forwarded copies thereof to all the Indian embassies abroad and also to the Indian Representative at the United Nations to give them a proper perspective about Kashmir.
“Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was unhappy. This report of mine apparently went against the views which he had held about Kashmir in general and Sheikh Abdullah in particular. He suspected that the Sheikh was not genuine and was misleading Pandit Nehru and was not happy that the report should have been given such wide circulation. A few days after I had sent the report, the Home Secretary informed me that the Sardar did not agree with my assessment and had taken exception to the fact that I had submitted this report without first consulting him. He also told me that the Prime Minister had sent copies of this report to all our embassies abroad endorsing the views expressed therein.
“I got a summons to see the Sardar the next day. He was not well and was seated on his bed. He looked at me quietly for some time. Then he asked me whether I had written the report, a copy of which was in his hands. I replied in the affirmative. He asked me why I had sent a copy of this to Jawaharlal without consulting him. I replied that I had submitted the report to the Director.… The Sardar then said that he did not agree with my assessment of the situation in Kashmir in general and of Sheikh Abdullah in particular. I said that I had acquired a fair background of the situation in Kashmir from the records.
“In his slow voice, he firmly told me that my assessment of Sheikh Abdullah was wrong, though my assessment of public opinion in Kashmir valley about accession was probably correct. That day I came back to my office wondering whether I had really made a mistake in my assessment of Kashmir and whether what the Sardar had said was not right after all. Events, as they turned out subsequently, proved that the Sardar was right and I was not” (Kashmir; pages 14-16). Thus Patel wanted Mullik’s reports to conform to his own politics: “consult” him before sending the report. Mullik obliged.
His was an awkward position. The I.B. was under Patel, but he was answerable also to the Prime Minister who differed with Patel, especially on Kashmir. Like some others, he soon learnt how to play the game. He won Nehru’s confidence and the two inflicted grave damage to the country’s interests and prestige. Neville Maxwell explains the decline of Military Intelligence, the rise of the I.B. and its intrusion in the foreign realm until it was ousted by the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
“The decline of Military Intelligence (M.I.) in India could be traced back to the last days of the British. There had been no Indians in M.I., so after 1947 all its personnel were new to the work. Furthermore, its role was diminished in favour of the civilian Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), staffed by police officers. This I.B. grew in influence and importance, while M.I. languished, its senior staff posts tending to become sinecures or stepping-stones. Under its Director at this time, B.N. Mullik, the Intelligence Bureau had, as has been seen, become an important voice in the innermost counsels of the government; at bottom this influence derived from Mullik’s standing with Nehru. Access to and the confidence of the Prime Minister were the prerequisite of influence in the government in those days, and Mullik enjoyed these to the full. A former police officer, Mullik was articulate and astute; his stewardship of dossiers on many of Nehru’s colleagues and opponents and the importance of intelligence in domestic Indian politics would also have brought him close to the Prime Minister. Reliance upon Mullik’s advice in some areas of domestic politics had grown by the 1960s into a willingness to accept almost as fact his predictions about Chinese behaviour.”
The disastrous Forward Policy was Mullik’s baby, which Nehru readily adopted as his own. “The monarch’s failing was that he all too often made those whose real capacities fitted them for the cap and bells into his dukes and captains” (India’s China War; pages 335 and 497). Nehru sinned against the light. He knew that Mullik was insane enough to urge that India should plot for Tibet’s independence.
British connection“The British Connection” in intelligence was sealed just as they were about to quit India. India’s leaders warmly embraced MI5. We have authoritative accounts of this affair. Christopher Andrew has written The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 (Allen Lane, Imprint of Penguin Books; 2009) with a Foreword by its Director-General Jonathan Evans. They call MI5 “the Security Service”. MI6 is the “Secret Intelligence Service”. Keith Jeffery wrote MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service (1909-1949); Bloomsbury, 2010. John Sawers, Chief of MI6, wrote a Foreword. Both Andrew and Jeffery are recognised historians. Andrew’s principal researcher, Calder Walton, a history scholar at Cambridge, wrote Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire (HarperPress, 2013), which is also based on archival material but is far freer than an official biography could be. In fascinating detail Walton describes how the liaison began and developed.
A British High Court made an order in a case brought by some Kenyans against the British government for spiriting away some 8,800 files on the colonies. Its defence in court was that disclosure would “embarrass” it in its relations with foreign countries. The High Court forced disclosure. The book draws on that secret archive.
MI5 had an imperial reach. Its representatives stationed in Empire and Commonwealth countries were called Special Liaison Officers (SLOs) and operated from the High Commission as “Second Secretary” or “Cultural Attache”. They reported to MI5’s Director but liaised with local intelligence.
Unknown to Subhas Bose, his Afghani aide, Rahmat Khan a.k.a. Bhagat Ram, was a committed communist who worked for British as well as Soviet intelligence (page 15) after 1941.
In April 1947, the I.B. chief in Delhi, Norman Smith, a former Commissioner of Police in Bombay, retired. He struck a deal with Patel, who was “in fact an enthusiastic believer in the activities of the I.B., especially in countering communism. In November 1946, before his departure as head of the I.B., Norman Smith met Patel and briefed him on the I.B.’s functions. The meeting was an extraordinary success: Patel not only allowed the continued existence of the I.B., but, amazingly, also sanctioned the continued surveillance of extremist elements within his own Congress Party. As Smith’s report of the meeting reveals, Patel was adamant that the I.B. should discontinue the collection of intelligence on orthodox Congress and Muslim League activity, but at the same time he authorised it to continue observing extremist organisations. Patel was particularly concerned about the Congress Socialist Party, many of whose members were communist sympathisers. The stance taken by Patel, who was sailing very close to the wind with regard to Congress and the Muslim League, was not lost on the I.B.: as Smith noted, the Congress Socialist Party was, after all, a Congress organisation and subject to Congress discipline. Smith’s report of his meeting with Patel concluded: ‘… it may be expected that they [Patel and the interim Indian government] will want to keep at least as close a watch on movements liable to subvert Congress/Muslim League authority as the previous official governments have kept on movements calculated to undermine British authority.’…
“Nehru’s inherent distrust of the British police did not prevent his government-in-waiting, under the guidance of Patel, from negotiating a close liaison with British intelligence. In March 1947, on the eve of independence, MI5’s Deputy Director-General, Guy Liddell, travelled to India and obtained agreement from Nehru’s government-in-waiting for an MI5 officer to be stationed in New Delhi after the end of British rule. At midnight on 14-15 August 1947, India achieved its ‘tryst with destiny’, and Nehru proudly broadcast to the newly independent nation that as the world slept India awoke, and the world’s largest democracy was born. However, behind all of the public diplomatic arrangements surrounding the birth of the new nation, MI5 quietly maintained liaison officers in New Delhi, who worked hard behind closed doors to build a close relationship with India’s security and intelligence agencies. MI5’s first security Liaison Officer in New Delhi, Kenneth Bourne, found close allies in Patel and Sanjeevi, as did the next SLO, Bill U’ren, who had previously served in the Indian police for twenty-two years. Sanjeevi continued as head of a reborn Delhi Intelligence Bureau, DIB, which retained the name of its predecessor in the Raj —one suspects in honour of it” (pages 131-133; Andrew, page 442). U’ren investigated the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, in 1951.
Walton adds: “It is striking that MI5’s SLO in New Delhi, unlike its other SLOs stationed overseas, conducted his business undercover, concealing his identity by using an alias, and was not publicly avowed by either the British or Indian governments. As one Colonial office report explained, this was done at Mullik’s personal request and was due to political reasons—doubtless Nehru’s deep suspicion of the British police, and also the increasingly turbulent Anglo-Indian diplomatic relation in the 1950’s. …
Concern over Krishna Menon“A particular source of concern for MI5 and the DIB, running like a sore through Anglo-Indian diplomatic relations in the early Cold War, revolved around the person of V.K. Krishna Menon, the Congress Party’s leading left-wing firebrand. Menon was one of Nehru’s closest confidants, serving as the first Indian High Commissioner in London after Independence, and later effectively became Nehru’s Foreign Minister, as the Indian representative at the United Nations. MI5 and the DIB were united in their deep distrust of Menon, described as ‘smooth and false’ by Harold Macmillan.…
“More alarming than Menon’s politics, however, were those of the people with whom he associated and some of his other activities. MI5’s investigations revealed that he was having an affair with a known communist sympathiser; had a drug problem; corruptly obtained contracts, including lucrative arms deals, for Indian firms; and personally profited from his official positions. MI5 noted that his personal bank account and those of the India League were so closely mixed up that it would be surprising if any audit could ever untangle them. MI5’s Deputy Director-General, Guy Liddell, put on file his opinion about Menon’s continued position as High Commissioner in London: ‘Whatever his politics may be, and they appear to go fairly far to the Left, Menon is clearly dishonest, immoral, an opportunist and an intriguer.… Whether or not Menon’s retention as High Commissioner is the lesser of two evils, the relations between him and Miss [Brigitte] Tunnard [his lover], who is at least a fellow traveller, are of considerable importance. As long as those relations continue, it is reasonable to suppose that anything of interest that Menon hears about will be passed to the Communist Party through her.
“In my view, if it were at all possible, it would be far better to cut our losses and get rid of Menon. I should doubt whether he could tell the Communist Party anything more than they already know. As long as he remains, the security position vis–a–vis India, whether it be the passing of documents or the attendance of Indians at courses, remains bad, Menon’s presence here really vitiates the whole position.
“MI5’s Director-General (Sillitoe) and its Deputy Director-General (Liddell) warned that Menon was a first-class intriguer with a bad moral record who would probably pass information on to his close communist associates in London, from where it was likely to find its way to Moscow. MI5 identified at least twelve communist sympathisers and fellow travellers employed on the staff of India House in London.… The DIB India shared MI5’s concern about Menon: Mullik refused to post a DIB liaison officer to India House while Menon was there for fear of sensitive information finding its way through him to the British Communist Party.
“MI5’s fears of Menon’s pro-communist and Soviet sympathies were not fanciful. On at least one occasion in his later political career in India, the KGB paid his election expenses…. Despite the chill between Western governments and India, relations between MI5 and the DIB remained remarkably close. At Mullik’s request, in 1957 MI5 despatched a training officer to the DIB. MI5’s SLO in New Delhi, John Allen, noted that with so many unfavourable winds blowing between India and Britain, if Nehru realised how close their intelligence liaison was, he would probably cut it off. The good working relationship that successive SLOs enjoyed with the DIB provided Britain with key information at a time when the Soviet Union, through covert KGB measures, was attempting to build a special relationship with India. Following a visit to India in 1958, MI5’s Director-General Sir Roger Hollis remarked that Mullik’s views on communism were actually closer to those of MI5 than to those of his own government” (pages 135-137).
Christopher Andrew records that Mullik “was also an enthusiastic supporter of close liaison” with MI5. “The newly appointed SLO, John Allen, reported: ‘As you know, Mullik has always been anxious not to draw the attention of the Ministry of External Affairs (excluding [N.R.] Pillai, the Secretary-General, who, I suppose, is more in our confidence than any other Indian civil servant) to the existence of an SLO here. Mullik’s opinion is that there are too many people in this department who would be happy to break up the liaison. The fact that neither Mullik nor Pillai have sufficient confidence in the Prime Minister’s continuing approval of the liaison willingly, to draw his attention to it is a fair indication of the delicate path we tread.’…
“After returning to London for the 1957 Commonwealth Security Conference, Mullik wrote to Hollis, who had succeeded White as DG: ‘In my talks and discussions, I never felt that I was dealing with any organisation which was not my own. Besides this, the hospitality and kindness which all of you showed me was also quite overwhelming.’ Hollis visited the DIB in May 1958 and noted afterwards that Mullik’s views on Communist penetration were closer to his own than to those of the Indian government. But the SLO, John Allen, feared that, with ‘so many unfavourable political winds blowing’ between India and Britain, if Nehru realised how close collaboration between the DIB and MI5 was, he would probably forbid much of it. Nehru, however, either never discovered how close the relationship was or—less probably—did discover and took no action.”
A model of KGB infiltrationOleg Kalugin, who became head of counter-intelligence in KGB foreign intelligence (and its youngest general) in 1973, remembered India as a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government. “India under Nehru’s daughter and successor, Indira Gandhi, was probably also the arena for more KGB active measures than anywhere else in the world. Successive SLOs’ close relations with the DIB made their inside information on Indian politics and government policy of increasing value to the British High Commission at a time when the Soviet Union, through KGB as well as overt channels, was attempting to establish a special relationship with India.… Most of the SLOs appointed to New Delhi were gregarious people, fond of India and good at getting on with both the DIB and their high commission colleagues. In 1967 the SLO recruited as his clerical assistant the future DG, Stella Rimington, whose husband was a First Secretary at the High Commission. The SLO lived in some style. ‘He was,’ Rimington recalls, ‘best known for his excellent Sunday curry lunches, which usually went on well into the evening, and for driving round Delhi in a snazzy old Jaguar” (pages 445-447). Mullik’s grovelling before the British shows the nature of the I.B.-MI5 liaison. Are you surprised that the I.B. shared with MI5 the private letters of Bose’s kin?
A playground for intelligence agenciesSoon, India became a playground for all—MI5, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the KGB. One of the most highly respected journals, Diplomatic History, published last year a revealing study, based on the archives, by Paul Michael McGarr, entitled “Quiet Americans in India: The CIA and the Politics of Intelligence in Cold War South Asia” (Volume 38; NO5 ). In June 1949, Sanjeevi went to the United States for talks with the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the State Department. While J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI was curt, the CIA accepted the I.B’s offer to explore “the possibility of establishing an official liaison on Communist matters”. The CIA became India’s strategic partner and collaborated with the I.B. on providing help to the resistance in Tibet. “Under an agreement reached between James Critchfield, chief of the CIA’s Near East operations, and B.N. Mullik, Langley furnished support to the Indo-Tibetan Special Frontier Force (SFF), a unit modelled on the U.S. Army Green Berets, or Special Forces. From the winter of 1964, SFF operations along the Sino-India border were coordinated through a joint Indo-U.S. command centre in New Delhi. The Agency also oversaw the insertion of nuclear-powered surveillance equipment on two of India’s Himalayan peaks, in a bid to collect data on Chinese atomic tests. One U.S. diplomat, who served in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi throughout the first half of the sixties, later attested that the Agency’s presence in India at that time was, very large, and very invasive… the CIA was deeply involved in the Indian Government.… once he had succeeded Sanjeevi, Mullik deemed it equally prudent to keep I.B.’s links with British and American intelligence agencies as quiet as possible. Were Nehru to get wind of the scale of India’s partnership with the CIA and MI5, Mullik explained to one British intelligence officer, much of the liaison activity would have to be curtailed.”
“Oleg Kalugin, then a rising star in the KGB’s First Chief (Foreign Intelligence) Directorate, has confirmed that towards the end of the sixties: we [the KGB] had scores of sources throughout the Indian government—in intelligence, counterintelligence, the defence and foreign ministries, and the police. The entire country was seemingly for sale, and the KGB and the CIA had deeply penetrated the Indian government. After a while, neither side entrusted sensitive information to the Indians, realising their enemy would know all about it the next day.”
The American columnist Jack Anderson published on January 14, 1972, the full minutes of the Washington Special Action Group’s meeting on December 8, 1971. On December 13, while the Bangladesh war was on, he published a report on “the Indian politician in [Indira] Gandhi’s Cabinet” who said that she planned to attack West Pakistan. As Anderson summed up, “The fact was that the CIA had penetrated the Indian government at every level and these independent sources sent a steady stream of reports back to Washington on troop movements, logistics, strategy, and even some of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s secret conversations.” Both “sophisticated electronic equipment as well as old-fashioned bribes were” used by the CIA’s Directorate for Plans—the dirty-tricks department.
Three major leaks in 1971
As a matter of fact there were three major leaks in 1971—on the timing of the attack on East Pakistan; the Soviet Union’s motives in signing the Treaty; and plans to attack West Pakistan. In 1979 appeared Thomas Power’s definitive work The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. Indira Gandhi hailed it. The CIA made a reference to an agent in the Indian Cabinet in a report to Nixon in August 1971, explaining that the Soviet Union had signed a friendship treaty with India in order to forestall Indian recognition of Bangladesh, then rebelling against the rule of West Pakistan. The substance of the report was quickly leaked to Tad Szulc of The New York Times, who published the story on August 13. That same day Helms called either Egil Krogh or his assistant David Young at the White House to protest against the leak, saying it put their agent’s life in danger. Krogh recommended to John Ehrlichman that the CIA mount an investigation of Szulc in order to pinpoint the leak. But despite Szulc’s story, the CIA’s agent continued to report from inside the Indian Cabinet, apparently unaware that he might have been compromised.
“Then, later that year, another leak occurred which, from Helm’s viewpoint, was even more egregious. With war raging in Bangladesh between Indian and Pakistani forces in December 1971, evidence began to mount that India was planning an attack on West Pakistan as well. On December 7, Kissinger asked the CIA for an estimate of the probability of such an attack. The CIA said it didn’t know. But within twenty-four hours it had positive information: the CIA case officer handling the Indian politician in Gandhi’s Cabinet in New Delhi was told that a decision had just been reached to attack in the West. A report was immediately cabled back to Langley and forwarded directly to the White House in its raw form. Nixon was later to cite this cable as one of the few really timely pieces of intelligence the CIA had ever given him, but the Agency paid a price. The report was widely read in the White House, and its text, along with many other documents, was quickly leaked to Jack Anderson, who published them in his column in mid-December. That was the end of the agent.… He told us to go to hell” (page 206).
Shackles of the I.B. ChiefIt is a depressing picture, which Maloy Krishna Dhar pointed out in his book Open Secrets (Manas; 2005). He wrote in pain. “The Director I.B. is supposed to be the most powerful person. But he is also a prisoner in the hands of his officers, especially the officers who are efficient and ambitious. Such officers are exclusive chefs, out of whose kitchen the Director is compelled to eat day in and day out. Simply because he has to earn his daily bread by catering to the needs of the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, and he does not have, in most cases, direct linkages with the ground level operators.
“It happens very often when weak Prime Ministers and tottering Home Ministers have to eat out of the hands of the Director I.B. They use the I.B. and other agencies to supplement their political apparatuses. The I.B. is tasked to carry out election prospects study, verify credentials and suitability of the ruling party candidates and to meticulously study the weaknesses of the opposition candidates. The I.B. is used to monitor all communication arteries of the opposition leaders and other individuals considered inimical to the leadership. The political breed has of late started using the R&AW also to carry out such exercises.
“Surprisingly the Home Ministry and often the office of the PM have also encouraged paramilitary organisations like the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to gather internal intelligence in addition to whatever operational intelligence they are required to collect in a given operational theatre. The chiefs of these central police forces vie with each other in supplying classified political intelligence to the political masters. This is a sheer game of double-dealing and constitutes flagrant violation of the intelligence-gathering mandate given to the IB….
“Blanket communication monitoring including cell phones, fax and Internet communications have seriously compromised the liberty of the citizens. The officers and bodies who are entrusted with such jobs do not supervise the checks and balances. Most of such monitoring is done in the name of tracking down the terrorists. In a number of cases the unscrupulous officials of the IB, R&AW and the CBI blackmail the innocent citizens.
“In India neither the politicians nor the bureaucrats of the general administration and the intelligence community are accountable to anyone. The intelligence agencies get away even after mercenaries drop arms at Purulia and a Kargil happens to the country and the top men of such organisations are rewarded with gubernatorial assignments. It happens because the buck stops with the Home Minister and the Prime Minister.
“It is not difficult to get past the systemic safeguards and please a HM and a PM, and a few advisers to them. An agency like the IB is not responsible to any elected body of the country. They prosper if they can keep two key consumers, the HM and the PM happy and if they can grease the palms of certain key officials. Such greasing act is not difficult as the intelligence organisations have sufficient unaccounted resources to keep hungry mouths happy.
“Should not a ‘free India’ enact laws to administer its intelligence community both at the Centre and in the States? Should not the country safeguard its future from errant leaders like Indira and Sanjay Gandhi, who mercilessly used the intelligence and enforcement machineries to execute the dictates of national emergency? Who can prevent the fundamentalist political entities to use these functional agencies to impose on the nation their brand of nationalism? Only the constitutional system can do that.”
Candid confessionsDhar freely confesses to his lapses: “I had carried out certain immoral and illegal orders. I acted against the spirit of democracy and constitutional sanctions. But it must be remembered that I belonged to an agency, which was, and still is, beyond the pale of democracy and constitutional liberalism. This organisation is run according to its own rules and whims of the masters of the day. I acted as a Roman while I was in Rome. But I had not allowed personal corruption to sully my soul. Intelligence operators and certain varieties of bureaucrats are bound to trample the constitution and law of the country unless they are made accountable to the elected representatives of the country, through overseeing committees of the Parliament. They will continue to dance to the tunes of the masters of the day till the political system in the country brings these organisations under specific Acts of the Parliament.”
Dhar was close to the Sangh Parivar. Around the end of 1988, Uma Bharati, Ved Prakash Goel and his son Piyush visited Dhar regularly. “My home had become a hub of activities of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] activities. My disillusionment with Rajiv Congress was not solely responsible for my tilt towards the BJP. I never ceased to be a political animal, despite the fact that I had joined a covenanted service. Politics was an ingredient of my H.O. The same hatred had pushed me nearer to the RSS and Jan Sangh and had made me hostile to the Muslims.”
On Narendra Modi, he writes that the Gujarat pogrom “rattled my bones. I wish there were some more people like me to gather audio and video evidences of the scheme of minority annihilation by Narendra Modi, the third ‘lauha purush’ (iron man from Gujarat).”
What Dhar adds is shocking: “From my talks with the Sangh Parivar stalwarts I gathered an impression that they had adopted a multi-layered operational plan by assigning specific role in each segment of the Parivar. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and other associate bodies were under instructions to go ahead with the demolition of the ‘vitarkit dhancha’ (disputed structure) and their volunteers were trained at different locations under expert supervision.
“The BJP leadership was assigned the role of putting on ‘mukhotas’ (masks) of political rhetoric mixed with frenetic religious appeal. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani managed to display the moderate face of the plan. However, most of them were fully aware of the plan of demolition of the mosque on a date coinciding with an auspicious Hindu celebration.
“On 25 November, I received a call from K.N. Gobindacharya inviting himself and two other friends to my home to dinner. Sunanda laid out a sumptuous vegetarian dinner, which was shared with us by Gobindacharya, S. Gurumurthy and V.P. Goyal. Post-dinner discussions went past midnight. What I gathered from my friends sent a shiver of chill in me. They gave enough indication that the Sangh Parivar was not against the idea of pulling down the mosque and put up a temple structure on 6 December 1992. Such an ugly incident, I pointed out, would result in catastrophic consequences” (page 467). According to Dhar, Advani was very much in the know of the plans.
This is what the I.B. was reduced to as a result of sustained abuse since 1947.
Hamid Ansari’s pleaVice President M. Hamid Ansari’s plea at a lecture in honour of R. Kao, founder of R&AW, on January 19, 2010, created a stir. He said, citing foreign models: “In the same spirit, and keeping with the practice of other democracies such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, the concerned agencies should make public their mission statement outlining periodically their strategic intent, vision, mission, core values and their goals. Existing models range from periodic executive review of the mission statement to statutory definition of the function of these agencies. Furthermore, and in step with the globalised information architecture, there is a case for greater openness with regard to the history of intelligence institutions. We need to study initiatives taken elsewhere and determine the extent to which we can proceed in the matter.
“The shortcomings of the traditional argument, of leaving intelligence to the oversight of the executive, became evident in the Report of the Kargil Review Committee and its sections on Intelligence in its Findings and Recommendations. It identified flaws, acknowledged the absence of coordination and of ‘checks and balances’, and noted the absence of governmental correctives. …
“The contention that openness and public discussion would compromise the secrecy essential for intelligence needs to be examined carefully. Operational secrecy is one aspect of the matter and has to be maintained. The legislature, nevertheless, is the organ of the state that allocates funds and is therefore entitled to insist on financial and performance accountability. The practice of subsuming allocations is not conductive to transparency; it may even encourage misuse. The proposed Standing Committee could fill this void; it could also function as a surrogate for public opinion and thus facilitate wider acceptance of the imperatives of a situation.” (M. Hamid Ansari; Teasing Questions; Niyogi Books; pages 719-720).
The Charter of the Intelligence Bureau, 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”.
R&AW intriguesBut R&AW’s charter, a mere executive order of September 21, 1968, yet remains unpublished. By 1991, R&AW had been thoroughly spoilt by Rajiv Gandhi, undeterred by its bungling in 1987, when it provided the Army with inaccurate information. He used R&AW as a tool of diplomacy, a rival to the Ministry of External Affairs. R&AW’s Director, A.N. Varma, was sent to Colombo behind the back of the Ministry of External Affairs and the High Commissioner, J.N. Dixit. Varma met President Junius Jayawardene on April 28 and June 19 in 1988. While Indian jawans were fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), R&AW was parleying with it with Rajiv Gandhi’s approval. Dixit writes in his memoirs that R&AW “had become not just an intelligence and information factor but a political factor directly influencing policy in Sri Lanka since 1980”. Its role not only led to “inadequate coordination between our intelligence agencies and the IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force]” but “resulted in operational limitations on the IPKF” while its men were being killed by the LTTE.
Clearly, this is no function for an intelligence agency to perform. R&AW cut its teeth in training the Mukti Bahini for forays into the then East Pakistan less than three years after it was set up. Its role in training the Sri Lankan Tamil outfits on Indian soil and arming them for attacks in Sri Lanka (1983-87) is well known.
R&AW’s nefarious activities covered domestic affairs too. On August 11, 1989, a Telugu Desam member of the Lok Sabha, P. Upendra, quoted from a letter to the Prime Minister from an association of R&AW employees alleging that Rs.3 crore had been allocated by R&AW for training Bodo guerillas in order to destabilise the Assam government. In May 1986 the Centre was alleged to have decided to use R&AW’s services in order to destabilise the West Bengal government on the Gorkhaland issue. An R&AW man was deployed to “domesticate” separatists in Kashmir.
There are two British statutes to draw on—the Security Service Act, 1989, (on MI5) and the Intelligence Services Act, 1994 (on MI6). However, no intelligence service can perform well if its political masters lack the integrity which alone can inspire it to act straight.