Looked down upon by civil society, treated by politicians as their lapdog, protected by the government like a holy cow, barely recognised by the State, but blessed with astonishing resources, intelligence operations in India are a combination of “tragedy, comedy, ugliness and perfidy”.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB)—the eyes and ears of the central government—is over 120 years old. Yet, it was not constituted under any act of Parliament; it has no charter of duties, no framework of policies, no set rules and regulations.
Still, it survives and thrives with barely any transparency or accountability. Any effort to reveal its workings invites a sledgehammer blow from the government of the day, using the usual fig leaves of secrecy, national security, confidentiality, etc.
In 2004, R.N. Kulkarni, an IB officer of 35 years’ standing, who also served in the Research and Analaysis Wing (R&AW), has put together a book on India’s “secret service”. Titled ‘Sin of National Conscience‘, it throws light on political spying and trickery that has become emblematic of IB core activities.
Under the aegis of the Congress, until the advent of coalition governments in the latter part of the 1990s, India suffered from political feudalism.
A blurred line divided the activities of the IB and the Congress.
The IB acted enthusiastically as a long political arm of the Congress, to further the fortune of the party. It helped the Congress to screeen party candidates to fight elections for the lesiglative assembly, legislative council, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The Congress, during 1982, wanted to select a candidate to the Rajya Sabha for the category of nominated seats, to fill a vacancy.
Generally, the nominated candidate was expected to be an eminent person to represent a wider spectrum of society, free from the obligation of party affiliation, and free to speak on the floor of the House on the merit of the subject.
Nevertheless, the Congress was keen to select a candidate in such a manner that he felt obliged to the party and augmented its numerical strength in the Upper House.
He should also join hands with the party, if need be, in its political machinations.
The IB was given the task of finding out the suitability of one such candidate based in Mysore.
He was none other than R.K. Narayan, a wellknown story writer of great fame.
However, Narayan was perceived to be close to officials of the US embassay in India and was observed attending the parties hosted by Americans in Delhi. This made the Congress uncomfortable about his candidature.
The IB was roped in to sort out the problem for the Congress and it was directed to conduct a detailed secret enquiry about the candidate to draw his correct and comprehensive political profile.
The IB was directed to find answers for these questions:
a) In the event of his nomination, whether he would toe the official line of the Congress or not.
b) Whether he would abide by the directions of the high command of the Congress.
c) Whether USA would be able to influence his political conduct in the Rajya Sabha.
d) His intimate views on various important issues in political, economic, defence and foreign affairs.
e) Whether he would be amenable in a crunch situation to the party’s manipulations, etc, etc.
Even though R.K. Narayan was a great writer, he did not have matching articulation. As a result, the operative working on him found it difficult to draw his profile.
So a secret enquiry was further conducted among his friend and relatives to know his political face.
This facet of political spying was confronted with an ethical question as to whether the conduct of IB was justifiable. And whether IB should really further the cause of the Congress in the guise of national security.
Such unethical working of IB had become the order of the day and inflicted pain on the operatives and the national conscience.
What should be the ethical equation of IB in matters of such political spying?
Narayan was eventually nominated to the Rajya Sabha where his ardent plea to reduce the weight of school books reverberates to this day.
(Copies of the Sin of National Conscience (price Rs 398) can be obtained from Kritagnya Publication, 671, 13th main, 4th stage, T.K. Layout, Mysore 570023.)
Illustration: courtesy R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh
Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore