Wednesday, March 02, 2005

INDIA: IB, RAW too play politics

Still the main source of intelligence agencies remains the press. This was my experience when I was the Information Officer at the Home Ministry in the late fifties. The same thing was true when I was in India's High Commission in London. Both times I had to make a request to stop the reports that would come to me in sealed envelopes. The explanation I gave was that I saw the reports in the language press two-three days earlier
IB, RAW too play politics
Kuldip Nayar

It is a horrible situation where the life of a state government depends not on the support of MLAs but on the whims of the centre

Elected governments are the wherewithal of a democratic polity. Their forcible ousting is a fraud committed on the voters. That the intelligence agencies in India have dislodged the state governments at the instance of rulers at New Delhi is something highly disturbing. What Maloy Krishna Dhar, former joint director of Intelligence Bureau, has told me and published it in a book has left me cold. He has claimed that the central government entrusted him with the task of overthrowing the elected governments in Haryana, Manipur and Sikkim and he did so even though he disliked the job.I wonder whether the BJP government in Goa went out in the same way. If so, the outcome in Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana may depend on whether it is acceptable to the rulers at the centre. Not only that, if the intelligence agencies are an instrument, the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh would last so long as the Congress-led government in New Delhi decides not to disturb it. It is a horrible situation where the life of a state government depends not on the support of MLAs but on the whims of the centre.

The open secret

The charge is too serious to be left at that. The mere denial of Dhar's disclosures, if at all it is forthcoming, will not do. There must be a high-powered inquiry commission, headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, to verify how the three state governments fell because of the machinations of IB and RAW as Dhar has alleged.

Who ordered the two agencies to pull down the governments?

The whole thing would have to be bared, every detail of it.

What should be done in the future to ensure that it does not happen again because such instances make a mockery of elections?
I know that both the agencies act as eyes and ears of the central government and keep it informed about what happens in the opposition quarters or in the states where the ruling party at the centre is not in power. The IB and RAW chiefs have a direct access to the Prime Minister and report to him on a day-to-day basis. What they tell him or her is not known to the cabinet or to the topmost secretary in the government.The ruling parties are also known to be checking with the intelligences agencies the credentials of candidates before fielding them in elections. It is another matter that the agencies have turned out to be wrong at times as it happened during the elections after the Emergency in 1977. They predicted Indira Gandhi's victory which was said to be the main reason why she went to the polls despite the opposition of Sanjay Gandhi, who ran the government at that time.Dhar's revelation that Rashtrapati Bhavan was bugged when Giani Zail Singh was President did not surprise me. The Giani knew about it. Whenever I met him, he would take me to the garden, observing that his place was bugged. Dhar told me that he discovered by accident a modem in the sitting room of the Giani where he had gone to wire it on the orders of the government. This, in fact, thickens the plot.

It appears that intelligence agencies were competing among themselves to keep a wrap on the Giani. It was an open secret that he had fallen from the grace of Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.That the intelligence agencies in foreign countries snoop at the presidents and prime ministers are an open secret. CIA knew all about the escapades of John Foster Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Whatever Richard Nixon spoke at the White House was tapped to the last word.Still my impression has been that our intelligence agencies are under the tight control of the government and that they do not have the kind of autonomy the agencies in the UK, US or Russia enjoy. Apparently, things are no different in India.The toppling of the three governments, the bugging of Rashtrapati Bhavan and other disclosures of Dhar have led me to believe that intelligences agencies can resort to any method in the name of getting what they think is "useful information

" They have a carte blanche. I wonder if there is any rule to stop them from going beyond a point. I do not expect the agencies to follow any code of ethics since the Indian society on the whole has ceased to be sensitive about methods. Yet, it should not be a case of the law of the jungle. All that is guaranteed in the constitution about individual's liberty has no meaning if intelligence agencies go about it in a manner which Dhar has indicated. Intelligences agencies have to be accountable. They cannot be a law unto themselves. Nor can they be at the end of telephones to obey the call of rulers.The Emergency (1977-79) was bad enough when the intelligence agencies had become the willing tools of tyranny. They concocted information and framed cases against all those whom the government did not like. But this seems to be a normal occurrence at present. The inquiry commission that I have suggested should indicate the guidelines for the operation of intelligence agencies so that they are under check.

The commission could also propose how to bring about coordination among the different intelligence agencies. We have a proliferation of them. Apart from IB, RAW, CBI and the military intelligence, the Ministry of Finance, the police and the paramilitary forces have separate set-ups. Every state also has huge paraphernalia. Sometimes the agencies have the same informer who plays one against another besides making double or treble the money for the same report.

But the other side

Still the main source of intelligence agencies remains the press. This was my experience when I was the Information Officer at the Home Ministry in the late fifties. The same thing was true when I was in India's High Commission in London. Both times I had to make a request to stop the reports that would come to me in sealed envelopes. The explanation I gave was that I saw the reports in the language press two-three days earlier. The best job that intelligences agencies do is the videotaping of incidents that have great significance to the nation. Take the speech by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee one day before the demolition of the Babri masjid: "I do not know what will happen there (Ayodhya) tomorrow." His explanation that it was a lighthearted remark goes against his body language which was so menacing. The role of the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was also that of a conniver. I am sure the intelligence agencies must be having some proof of it. We shall have to wait for a government which will not be finicky enough in releasing the information.