R&AW functioning: an insider’s account


THE KAOBOYS OF R&AW — Down Memory Lane: B. Raman; Lancers Publishers & Distributors, 2/42(B), Sarvapriya Vihar, New Delhi-110016.

Any reader who expects that a book on the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) by a retired member of its officer corps would contain details of operations carried out by the intelligence outfit is likely to be disappointed. After all, a true professional would post-retirement abide by the code of conduct that his organisation insisted he observe during employment, even if there were no legal sanctions against him going public. It is also questionable whether the reading public in India needs to be provided accounts of actions undertaken with the sanction of elected governments for ensuring national security. With these caveats in mind, the reader can still learn quite something of value from the book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane by B. Raman.

Raman spent 26 years in the R&AW, transferring to it from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) after the agency for collecting external intelligence was carved out of the unitary set up in September 21, 1968. As is well known, Rameswar Nath Kao, who was in charge of the IB’s external intelligence division until then, became R&AW’s first chief and had a key role in shaping the organisation’s structure and creating its ethos. The first sets of inductees appear to have revered their boss and hence the title of the book. But, — and this point needs to be kept in mind for what it says about the balance with which this narrative has been presented — Raman does not hesitate to advert to the mistakes that his one-time chief made.


What is most interesting about this book, especially from the viewpoint of people who have an instinctive suspicion of intelligence agencies, is the openness with which the author discusses certain issues and the position he takes on them. For instance, Raman makes a strong case for the parliamentary supervision of the departments active in this field. He certainly does not advocate that parliamentarians should be privy to the clandestine operations undertaken by these agencies. But he does point to the need for a system of external auditing so that R&AW, IB etc. perform up to standards. Such supervision would also ensure that these agencies are not misused for partisan political purposes by the prime minister of the day.

The book also contains the timely warning that the current penchant for increased contacts with the intelligence agencies of other countries, especially the Central Intelligence Agency, could lead to the penetration of R&AW, IB and the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Home Affairs by these outfits.

Similarly, contrary to the impression many outside the intelligence establishment may have formed, the author speaks out in favour of the enhanced recruitment of members of the minority communities especially Muslims in these agencies. Given the threat posed in the present day by forces of jihad, the agencies charged with fighting the menace must have on its ranks officers who can understand the language as well as the ideologies of those inclined to participate in terrorism. Raman also makes the argument, which is usually made by “liberals” or “progressives”, that jihadist terror (or the New Terrorism) might not have taken root in India if not for the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the several pogroms inflicted on the Muslim community.

While the book is informative and provides an overview of the functioning of R&AW, this reviewer wishes that the organisation of chapters had been thought-out better. It is sometimes a little difficult to follow the narrative as it jumps back and forth. On account of this drawback, there are too many passages where anecdotes are re-narrated.

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