On March 12, 1993, Mumbai was hit by a series of bomb blasts. By that evening, one intelligence officer, working hard and fast, as was his wont, had drafted a detailed note for the Prime Minister. It included among other things, an assessment of likely motives, a list of groups that could have carried out the attack, and similar incidents that had occurred previously in various other countries. In the days that followed, the same officer meticulously followed up on every small clue that became available and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) was ultimately able to acquire the names of those involved and the details of their activities prior to and immediately after the incident.
The officer was B. Raman, who passed away on June 16 to cancer that he described as the last terrorist in his life. He wrote about this battle, so different from the others he had fought in his eventful career, with remarkable candour and occasional humour in his blog.
Raman was an IPS officer of the 1961 batch who served for a time in the Madhya Pradesh cadre before deputation to the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi. There, he was soon noticed by India’s legendary spymaster, R.N. Kao, who took him to the Research and Analysis Wing when it was formed in 1968. From very early on in his career, Raman displayed an unwavering commitment to his work. This, along with his vast knowledge and the ability to recall details of events even after the passage of decades (he could, in fact, tell you the contents of notes recorded by him many years ago) made him a near ideal intelligence officer These rare qualities prompted Kao and many of his successors to entrust Raman with some of the very sensitive tasks that the R&AW undertook.
His detailed study in the 1970s on the various ethnic groups of Burma is widely considered as one of the best of that time. During the 1980s and early 1990s, when Sikh militancy was a major security problem, he was given charge of the desk handling this issue. He quickly familiarised himself with all aspects of this problem and acquired extensive knowledge of militant groups operating abroad. As expected, he was made the pointperson to brief representatives of foreign intelligence agencies about the threat India faced from terrorism and more particularly about the help being provided to these groups from across the border. Some western intelligence agencies were initially sceptical about our claim that these groups were receiving assistance from Pakistan. Raman never backed down and insisted that the information we were sharing had been double-checked and, hence, reliable. At the time of the Mumbai blasts, Raman was heading the counter-terrorism unit of R&AW.
He started writing prolifically on strategic issues after his retirement in 1994 and was much in demand at conferences and workshops not only in India but also abroad. His standing in the international strategic community was evident when Stephen Cohen asked him to write a chapter for his book, The Future of Pakistan.
In his passing, India’s strategic community has lost one of its finest minds, and the country’s intelligence world, a rare role model.
(Amber Sen was formerly Special Secretary, RAW, and Strategic Intelligence Adviser, National Security Council.)