The nation has a right to know
1962: India suffered a humiliating set-back in the Sino-Indian war. Many believed that the set-back was attributable to the then political, military and intelligence leadership. An enquiry was held into some of the aspects of the set-back. This enquiry report has not so far been released to the Indian public.
1965-66: India suffered two set-backs. During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, the Indian Army unit, which was ordered to open the Lahore front, got bogged down. The Army blamed the Intelligence Bureau for poor intelligence regarding the Ichogil Canal. In 1966, the Mizo National Front under Laldenga took the Indian Security Forces by surprise and practically over-ran the entire Mizoram. The Army retrieved the ground subsequently and beat back the MNF. A senior officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India was asked to enquire into allegations of failure by the IB in both the cases. His reports reportedly absolved the IB of any blame for these set-backs, but led to the decision of Indira Gandhi to bifurcate the IB and create the R&AW on September 21, 1968, to deal with external intelligence. The Indian public and research scholars have been denied access to these enquiry reports.
1971: The R&AW, hardly three years old, played a highly-commended role in the events of 1971 preceding the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971 that contributed to the success of the Bangladesh freedom-fighters. As it happens in the case of secret agencies, many of the decisions, operations and other actions of the R&AW were based on oral instructions from Mrs Gandhi and others who played a role in the decision-making at the higher levels. There was no written documentation in the Archives of the R&AW giving a total picture of the role of the R&AW. In 1982, Indira Gandhi recalled RN Kao from retirement and appointed him as Senior Adviser in the Cabinet Secretariat. He felt that in the absence of an authentic written documentation of the role of the R&AW, future generations of R&AW officers would remain in the dark about the operations of the R&AW during 1971—-particularly after all the officers who had played a role in 1971 pass away.
At his suggestion, the R&AW recalled from retirement an officer of the Army information wing who had served in the R&AW in 1971 and asked him to interview all officers, senior and junior, who had played a role in 1971 and write an authentic narrative of the role of the R&AW in 1971. He did part of the work. Kao resigned after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. The R&AW terminated the services of this officer and discontinued the project. Many of the officers, who had played a role in 1971, including Kao himself, have since passed away. About half a dozen are still alive— either in their late 70s or early 80s. A legendary officer from Kerala, of whom any intelligence agency in the world will be proud and who acted as the right hand man of Kao in 1971, is in his early 90s. When these officers also pass away in the next few years, no authentic record of the role of the R&AW in the events of 1971 will be available. Their knowledge, however feeble now, will die and be cremated with them. The Government should revive this project urgently, complete it quickly and make it available to the public and scholars.
1975-77: The Intelligence agencies and the Central Bureau of Investigation played a role in enabling Indira Gandhi to proclaim and sustain the State of Emergency for three years. There were allegations of serious misuse of the agencies by her and her advisers in the Government and the Congress to browbeat her critics and those opposed to the Emergency. The Morarji Desai Government, which came to office in 1977, ordered two enquiries into these allegations and other connected matters relating to the Emergency. The first was a quasi-judicial enquiry by the Shah Commission. The second was an administrative enquiry into the alleged misuse of the agencies conducted by a committee headed by LP Singh, who was Home Secretary under Indira Gandhi in the years before the Emergency. The Shah Commission’s report was released to the public, but the LP Singh committee report was not released to the public by any of the Governments that had held office since 1980. Hopes and expectations that the AB Vajpayee Government would release the LP Singh Committee report and other documents relating to the Emergency were belied. It is high time now to release all these accounts to the public so that we have a comprehensive and authentic record of the State of Emergency in public domain.
1984: Mrs Gandhi made frantic efforts to avoid having to send the Army into the Golden Temple at Amritsar for what came to be known as Operation Bluestar. She initiated back channel talks/contacts with important Sikh leaders in the Punjab as well as in the diaspora to find a peaceful outcome. The back channel contacts with important Sikh leaders of the Punjab were handled by Rajiv Gandhi and his young associates. One back channel contact with a Sikh leader of the diaspora was handled by Kao. These back channel contacts spoke very positively of Indira Gandhi and her sincere search for a peaceful outcome to the crisis in the Golden Temple. The Government should ensure that the documents relating to these back channel contacts are properly preserved for evaluation after some years whether they could be released to the public.
2002: Kao passed away in January 2002. Before his death, he had reportedly recorded a narrative of some of his experiences and had it deposited for safe custody in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Library in New Delhi for release to the public some years after his death. One doesn’t know what time-bar he had put on its release to the public. It is now more than 10 years after his death. The Government owes it to the memory of Kao, who had served the country so brilliantly, to ensure that his narrative becomes available to the public once the time-bar is over. Any attempt to keep it permanently in darkness in the Library would be an insult to the memory of this distinguished and proud son of India.
The Government should appoint a high-powered group to go into all these reports and documents, excise portions that could have an adverse impact on State-to-State relations with other countries and release the rest to the public. Possible domestic embarrassments should not be a ground for excising any portion.