The jury might still be out on whether or not Rajiv Gandhi was only after fun and frolic as the Prime Minister of India because he used warships for jolly rides. But take a look at this episode, narrated in a new book by Karnataka’s former intelligence chief DV Guruprasad.
This was about what Rajiv did in Gulbarga in Karnataka in February 1985, less than four months after he became the prime minister. After addressing an Assembly election meeting in the town, Rajiv was to go by road to Hyderabad, some four hours away. Much to the shock of the police, he took the driving seat of the "VIP vehicle" himself and zipped down the road. When the pilot car in front wasn’t going fast enough, he became impatient, kept honking furiously and finally overtook it.
Guruprasad, who was in the escort car behind, wrote in the book Corridors of Intelligence — Revealing Politics, “At the border, I went towards the VIP vehicle, saluted the PM and took his leave. He gave me a mischievous grin."
This is not a book about how prime ministers make merry. In fact, this is only one example of its kind the IPS officer has rustled up. It’s more about how chief ministers make a mockery of the police. Primarily a chronicle of the author’s own career as Karnataka’s intelligence chief between 2003 and 2006, the book (248 pages, Manas Publications) is important for more than one reason.
To begin with, there haven’t been too many works of this kind before. There were plenty of books earlier on how central governments, notably that of Indira Gandhi, misused and abused the government machinery. But there have been few on how chief ministers kept state intelligence chiefs at their beck and call for their political ends.
But don’t expect from this book a bone-chillingly scathing indictment of the political class.
Devoid of a literary flourish but packed with a well-structured narrative, Guruprasad’s story is without any malice towards either politicians or officials he worked with. It’s a fairly matter-of-fact account of his experiences without being too much of a biography. More than reading the lines, you must read between them.
It's only then can you find the true zing of his narrative and fathom the inner workings of police intelligence and politics, and how they can together make a lethal cocktail for a ruling party’s enemies. It tells you how officers misuse their proximity to politicians and politicians misuse officials, threatening them with the Damocles’ sword of a transfer order or denying them promotions.
"I do not know what the truth is” is the concluding sentence of the book. The "truth" refers to the reason why the author was denied the post of the state’s police chief in 2011 when BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP was the Chief Minister of Karnataka. But, of course, the focus of the narrative is what the officer did and what happened during the time he was the state intelligence chief.
Importance of an intelligence chief
The role of a state intelligence chief may be important or unimportant, depending on how you see it. It’s important because he must meet the chief minister every morning to brief him on the happenings in the state, relating to both law-and-order and politics. The political part must ideally be restricted to activities of groups or parties out to destabilise the democratically elected governments or trigger law-and-order problems. But in practice, the intelligence wing ends up doing the dirty work of snooping on the ruling party’s rivals. Whatever the briefing is, the intelligence chief has the ear of the chief minister.
The post can be dismissed as something of only titular importance if you consider the way some chief ministers attach little value to these morning briefings. Several times in the past, I ended up waiting for a chief minister along with an intelligence chief and found the officer feeling like an unwanted intruder. It was another matter that I found my chat with an intelligence chief in the waiting room more fruitful than the one I had with the chief minister himself later.
Guruprasad recounts how, when he first became the intelligence chief in 2003, SM Krishna, then the Chief Minister of Karnataka, would escape meeting him by leaving his residence by a backdoor and going to the adjacent home office. "...the security guards posted would have a hearty laugh seeing me run to catch the CM," writes the officer. It was only later that Krishna realised the importance of true intelligence.
But true intelligence is in short supply. Like politics, intelligence is a ridiculous caricature of what it should be. For romantics, intelligence may sound like the work of a gum-shoeing sleuth, a real-life James Bond. But often intelligence is the shoddy work of an officer who is too morally fit to occupy any other post in the police department or too physically unfit to climb a single flight of stairs. Howsoever fit they are, state intelligence chiefs must, for "legwork", necessarily depend on policemen who are permanently busy trying to get transfers back to the lucrative law-and-order jobs. Or, in the case of "political assessments", intelligence officials may depend on journalists who, in turn, depend on other secondary, often unreliable sources.
But Guruprasad’s pre-election assessments were often right. His prediction of a rout for Congress in the 2004 Assembly election “caused a furore in party circles” as he put it. He was wrong only because the debacle was worse than his estimation.
It was after the 2004 hung Assembly result that the first Congress-JD(S) coalition government was formed. The author continued as the intelligence chief when Dharam Singh of Congress became the coalition chief minister.
A good part of the book is, in fact, devoted to the shenanigans of JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda and his two sons — Revanna and Kumaraswamy — who constantly hassled Singh with demands of all kinds, the most frequent of which were transfer of officials. This went on till finally JD(S) pulled the rug from under Singh’s feet, and Kumaraswamy became the chief minister in 2006 for 20 months with BJP’s support.
Kumaraswamy was back as the chief minister last year, this time with the support of Congress. Guruprasad can only sit back and watch with an amused smile as the Gowda clan plays the same antics against Congress as it did during the first term of the coalition.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: May 13, 2019 23:12:56 IST