Remembering B Raman: A role model for Indian espionage

by Jun 18, 2013

As I pen my tribute to Bahukutumbi Raman, former special secretary of Research and Analysis (RAW), who passed away in Chennai earlier this week, CBI interrogation of a senior IB officer is going on in Ahmedabad in connection with the Ishrat Jahan case. This episode has raised several questions about the role of an intelligence officer. Did the IB officer go overboard? Some of us who have worked sometime or the other in both organizations are intrigued and pained at this development which casts a shadow on all clandestine operations involving terrorists or suspected terrorists. More about this later. The point that I would like to make is how Raman, despite his strong views on many contentious matters, never allowed his zeal to sidestep the law. He combined theory with the practical, and earned international reputation, the envy of many a counterpart of his, both in RAW and IB.

Raman was two years senior to me in the IPS. I ran into him for the first time in the dingy corridors of the South Block where IB was housed in late 1960s, till it moved home to the North Block. I did not get to know him well in those few years before RAW came into being from the nucleus that IB was. Raman moved over to the prestigious IB to take care of reporting on Burma (now Myanmar). I saw very little of him thereafter, because he went on a posting to Europe under an assumed name. (The fiction is no longer in vogue. Our RAW officers posted abroad are now known by their real and not assumed names.)

B Raman.

B Raman.

Our contacts resumed after both of us retired from the IPS and settled down in Chennai. It was during this period—possibly the most productive phase of Raman’s life—that we came to know each other better. Even then the links were formal, one based on mutual respect.

What was remarkable about Raman was that he was modest about his prowess in an area that was full of riddles and conundrums. He wore his stature lightly. He was a regular invitee to many international forums where he was heard with great admiration and respect. He never paraded his wares. Nor did he impose his views on others. He could not care less when he was ignored by those in the South Block who claimed they knew better than him.

Raman will be remembered long for his impressive and thought provoking columns. He wrote with amazing clarity, and pulled no punches. He was no great admirer of the US intelligence community. He actually thought they were indulging in duplicity when it came to collaborating with intelligence agencies of other countries. The Headley episode in particular invited many acerbic comments from him. He wrote: "His (Headley’s) extradition is legally out of question since as part of the plea bargain entered into with him, the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has made a commitment to him that he will not be extradited to India…… In my reading, the extradition door is still open in the case of Tahawur Hussain Rana, Headley’s Chicago-based accomplice. Intriguingly, the FBI did not consider it necessary to enter into a plea bargain with him. Only one logical explanation is possible for the FBI’s double standards in the case of Headley and Rana. The FBI wanted to protect Headley from independent Indian interrogation because he was an agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Rana was apparently not an agent of the Agency. The FBI, therefore, did not feel the need to protect him through a plea bargain."

Writing on the same subject, as recently as January 2013, after he had been afflicted with cancer, Raman alleged that there had been a cover-up on the part of India which played into the hands of a deceitful foreign agency. He added: There has been a huge cover-up of the LET iceberg in India that helped Headley and Rana. While the NIA has shown considerable persistence in repeatedly questioning a few Hindus who had allegedly indulged in some acts of reprisals against Muslims in the Malegaon and Samjauta Express explosions, it has scrupulously avoided identifying and questioning the contacts of Headley and Rana in the Indian Muslim community.

Indian analysts and political parties have not shown much interest in exposing this cover-up by the partisan Ministry of Home Affairs and demanding an end to this. One must raise this issue strongly and demand thorough enquiries into the matter.

This eloquent commentary on what Raman considered to be a shameful chapter in Indo-US relations on the counterterrorism front would itself indicate why the Indian establishment was not particularly enamoured of Raman, although it could not ignore him either and had to accommodate him some important committees.

Raman wrote a lucid prose and never indulged in incomprehensible rhetoric. ‘Keep it simple’ was his mantra, and he lived up to this till his last breath. He was conscious of the poverty of his early days in life. Hence he lived austerely, and unpretentiously. He never found the time to marry, and devoted all his life to spreading the message that India needed to protect itself from terror and from the machinations of the West and Pakistan.

His life is a model to future intelligence officials. The lesson to learn from him is: Flamboyance does not always pay in the tricky game of intelligence; perseverance and a level head alone are the main keys to success.

(The writer is a former Joint Director in the Intelligence Bureau, New Delhi and a former CBI Director.)

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