B. Raman, one of India’s first external intelligence agents, died here on Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 77. Raman served for 26 years in the Research and Analysis wing, right from the day it was carved out of the Intelligence Bureau in September 1968 on Indira Gandhi’s orders, until his retirement in 1994.
An IPS officer of the 1961 Madhya Pradesh cadre, Raman was on deputation to the Intelligence Bureau when he was handpicked by Rameshwar Nath Kao to join R&AW, set up in the aftermath of the wars with China and Pakistan.
He retired as Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat. In the last six years of his career, he headed R&AW’s counter-terrorism unit. Throughout his career, he was, in his own words, known “as a man with a poker face. As someone who showed no emotion or passion on his face.”
The first assignment that Kao, who headed R&AW, gave him was to be in charge of the agency’s Burma branch. He was there for five years handling analysis as well as clandestine operations, an early phase in his career that earned him the sobriquet ‘Burma Raman’.
In his book, The Kao-boys of R&AW – Down Memory Lane (2007), Raman gave a detailed account of the external intelligence agency’s work that contributed to the liberation of Bangladesh. Kao had given the agency’s operatives two priority tasks — “to strengthen its capability for the collection of intelligence about Pakistan and China and for covert action in East Pakistan.”
In a rare foray by a “spook” into writing about field operations, Raman disclosed that providing intelligence to policy makers and the armed forces, to train Bengali freedom fighters in clandestine camps, to network with Bengali public servants from East Pakistan posted in West Pakistan and in Pakistan’s diplomatic missions abroad to persuade them to cooperate with the freedom fighters and mount a special operation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where Naga and Mizo hostiles had sanctuaries and training camps.
He recorded the secret negotiations Rajiv Gandhi had on behalf of Indira Gandhi with Sikh leaders before Operation Bluestar in 1984. Indira Gandhi was keen that these be recorded so that posterity would know how she tried in vain for a negotiated solution before she sent the Army into the Golden Temple. Raman was entrusted with this task. He says he had the negotiations secretly recorded and spent endless hours transcribing them. These records were handed over to the organisation’s archives, but nobody knows where these are now.
Raman strongly believed that covert capability was an indispensable tool for any state that had external adversaries. He served as the head of RAW’s counter-terrorism division from 1988 to 1994. He declined an offer by the Narasimha Rao government to be the intelligence coordinator for the north-east after his retirement, preferring to return Chennai.
He was a member of the special task force appointed by the government in 2000 to revamp the intelligence apparatus and a member of the National Security Advisory Board. He was also a member of the committee set up to examine the intelligence failure that led to the Kargil incursion.
In his retirement, especially in the last 10 years, he was active in writing about strategic affairs, touching on a range of internal and external issues. He spoke with precision and clarity. He was quick to respond to sudden and developing events such as terror attacks, posting his perspective and preliminary views on anti-terrorism portals and social media sites. He believed that all strategic thinking and discussion should have the national interests in mind, even though his analysis always took into account the political and social underpinnings of conflicts and crises.
He was active on Twitter as @sorbonne75, and despite his illness, continued to post messages on his timeline on issues of current national interest. In the last week of May, he tweeted that “Ind-Japan shd make China’s seeming strengths into strategic vulnerabilities.”
He also talked about his illness on Twitter, saying he wanted to create awareness of cancer and its treatment. In his very last tweet, on May 31, he spoke optimistically about returning from hospital soon.
Raman was associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and was a regular contributor to the South Asia Analysis Group. He was also Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.