An era may be inexorably drawing to a close with the passing of Bahukutumbi Raman, one of India’s most brilliant Intelligence operatives and a doyen of the country’s strategic security community.
An officer of the 1961 batch of the Indian Police Service, B. Raman was assigned to the Madhya Pradesh cadre where he distinguished himself in difficult assignments such as that of Sub divisional Police Officer, Katni before joining the Intelligence Bureau (IB) under the earmarking scheme.
He was one of Ramnath Kao’s handpicked `Kao- Boys’ to join the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) when it was bifurcated from the IB in1968. Mr Kao used to be very fond of Mr Raman till his last days (Jan, 2002). He may have passed on many invaluable tips about sensitive, secret operations to Mr Raman, which he was otherwise determined to ` carry to his grave’. Though Raman wrote anecdotally about some of these exciting interludes in his highly acclaimed and popular work, `The Kao-boys of R&AW’, he never really exposed any of the very vital methodologies of covert operations or secret service work, which were to become the hallmark of his abiding contribution to the R&AW and to the country’s security. In this sense, he was one of the true inheritors of Mr Kao’s legacy.
A hard taskmaster and workaholic, Raman set high standards of diligence, attention to detail and all-round excellence. His reputation for financial integrity was impeccable, even as he almost single-handedly dealt with a large number of special operations involving handling of secret service funds. One of many apocryphal stories about his fierce devotion to work told to aspiring entrants to the profession was one about his getting back to his desk within hours of his mother’s funeral.
He led by example and was generous to a fault, usually standing up for his small circle of immediate subordinates even when they did not sometimes measure up to his own exacting yardsticks of moral, financial and intellectual integrity. For those not working directly under him, accolades for good work were grudging and hard to come by. However, he was never known to be petty and always stood up for the national and organizational good.
B. Raman was involved in and contributed substantially to many important chapters in the country’s intelligence and security history, including the 1971 freedom struggle of Bangladesh, the upheaval in Sikkim, the `Blue Star’ operations in 1984. He was closely associated in overseeing the gradual dissipation of the separatist `Khalistan’ movement in Punjab.
One of his signal contributions was to lay the groundwork of intelligence liaison and co-operation with friendly foreign intelligence services, many of which were initially skeptical about the value of such interactions but later quickly realized the intrinsic quality of inputs, especially pertaining to terrorism, being received from the Indian end.
His record in service was consistently outstanding. Given his encyclopedic memory and ready recall of political developments of all countries in India’s security neighborhood, a succession of Secretaries, R&AW had to depend on him to a great extent in taking vital decisions quickly or while advising the political leadership on how to respond to crises. So much so that when his turn came for promotion to the post of Special Secretary, he was found eligible to supersede four of his peer seniors in the organization. Of course, this never happened as the powers that be in the higher government executive did not have the gall to go against ` seniority’ or `brotherhood’ to offend the IPS. Raman shielded his disappointment well during the remaining part of his service as Additional Secretary in the R&AW though the loss was perhaps more, for the organization.
After his retirement, Raman was prolific in recording for posterity his eminently sensible insights into intelligence and security concepts, especially those pertaining to the emerging specter of terrorism. Apart from ` Kao-boys’, among valuable books authored in this period were `Intelligence: Past, Present & Future’, `Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow’ and one on Mumbai, 26/11. He also contributed several essays on challenges to India’s security and its approach to counter terrorism, which figured on the South Asia Analysis portal. He was a regular participant in international conferences around the world, locking horns once with intrusive and offensive interlocutors like Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in interventions before the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, on Kashmir and on terrorism in South Asia. This was perhaps Raman’s `finest hour’.
One of his most perceptive articles, `Visualizing a shared India-Pakistan Future’, was included in Stephen Cohen’s recent work : `The Future of Pakistan’ (Oxford University Press/Brookings Institution,2011), which emerged from a conference of acclaimed experts at Bellagio, Spain in 2010, though Raman was unable to attend physically, due to his failing health. Reviewing the book, former MEA diplomat and MP, Mani Shankar Aiyar complimented Raman’s clarity and contribution to this book.
The Intelligence community in India needs to remain inspired by Raman’s example of sustained, indefatigable, low key hard work and imbibe his rather rare qualities of selfless devotion to discipline and in-depth study of subjects at hand, before venturing to dabble in the exotic world of `spooky’ operations.