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India's War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945
India's War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945
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The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane $32.00
by G Narasimha Raghavan Date Added: Saturday 22 December, 2007
Regardless of being vulnerable to misconstrual instances, this book by former head of the Counter-Terrorism Head of India's agency for collection of external intelligence - R&AW or the Research & Analysis Wing - B Raman, minces no words to deliver the task he has assigned himself, viz., to write in no uncertain terms the role played by R&AW during the 1971 war with Pakistan, the Khalistani movement, the influence of political leadership in India and the honest people who headed the organisation. �Burma' Raman (as he came to be known due to his expertise on Burma matters) recounts how R&AW evolved since 1968, and has embroidered his narration with memorable sketches of his boss and the first head of R&AW - late Rameshwar Nath Kao, and hence the name, Kaoboys - an expression that reflects the loyal officers' integrity and affection for the charismatic former chief of R&AW. Raman is one of those die-hard Kaoboys, as this book aptly mirrors.

The Kaoboy:
For all his fondness for Kao, Raman's account of his interaction with the chief, and his reassessment of Kao's actions while in office and after that, is in no way skewed, and not hagiographical on any account. Raman's acumen as a secret agent has enabled him to consider issues with a pinch of salt. There are not many officers, especially from the secret services / intelligence agencies, who take pride in having worked under a remarkable boss, and how many would spare time and energy to write about the person who has had a big influence in their lives and in the development of the organisation. The first thing that would captivate a reader is the smiling face of Kao on the front cover of the book. What is so extraordinary about the person that Raman, a keen observer of international events, has decided to write a book on his superior? Reading the easy-to-comprehend style of the author would reveal how Kao and his team built R&AW from scratch, how they surmounted problems, how they helped in the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh, how Kao and his boys raised an upright scaffold for R&AW in times of crisis, and how other heads of R&AW carried forward the organisation after Kao's retirement.

Political Leadership and R&AW:
R&AW was created by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968 for collection of external intelligence. Kao was made the head. Raman's narration of the formation of R&AW, the priority they had and the way R&AW's interactions with Indira Gandhi that ultimately ensured India's victory in the war with Pakistan in 1971 is peppered with anecdotes and incidences that disclose the inherent flaws in the newly-formed organisation, and also the its strengths. Politics played a major role in deciding the fate of R&AW. It was Indira Gandhi's steadfast attitude that Bangladesh must be free that triggered R&AW to act accordingly and admirably. The misunderstood issue of R&AW being used covertly during the Emergency is another aspect of politicising the organisation's actions. Morarji Desai, who headed the government after Indira Gandhi's defeat, had little regard for R&AW, and this period saw the organisation softening it stance. However, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao were all ears to R&AW's counsel and ensured the organisation's close coordination with the government. Time and again, Raman asserts that political situation has a lot to do with what R&AW's performance. Lest it be understood that R&AW was a handmaiden of the ruling party at the Centre, it is essential to dispel such thinking - it has never been so and never will be, Raman avows. It is R&AW's exercise of capability and wherewithal that is contingent upon political decrees, according to the author.

Setting an Agenda:
There is more to the book than Kao's accomplishments. The books also talks about the author's own experience in R&AW for over 25 years. The book is also about R&AW's officers who have been involved in a variety of covert operations, and how that shaped R&AW's perception. The background of the Kalistani movement, the role of ISI in Kashmir, the roles CIA and the Western Intelligence agencies played, among others, are related by Raman, giving the reader a historical angel to understanding contemporary issues of terrorism and insurgency. Two important issues that reach out for the nation's attention is the need for coordination among the various intelligence agencies in India - numbering eight - to guarantee timely action against anti-national elements. There is a sense of unfriendliness among the agencies, recalls Raman. The next agenda that requires attention is the author and Kao's longing for establishing a historical division like the CIA's, which would procure and maintain a "complete record of the role of the agency and its officers to ensure that heir memories, perceptions, insights and conclusions" (p.27) become available to the coming generations of officers and the public. How else would one know the negotiations carried out by Indira Gandhi before flagging off the sensitive Operation Bluestar, or the discussion of G Parthasarathi with Laldenga of Mizoram that led to change in the stance of the outfit? Without doubt, this book by Raman is the starting point for experienced secret agents to share, to a limited extent at least, with the public, the behind-the-screen elements of war, riot and insurgencies.

The narration in the book is not racy in the sense of the usual accounts of exploit and successes of secret agents. Nevertheless, it is the matter-of-fact style of the author that attempts to give credibility to the narration, and does not manipulate the reader to either regress or digress. One wonders whether Kao would have welcomed this book by one of his Kaoboys, given his inconspicuous nature.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars! [4 of 5 Stars!]
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