Spy with Kashmir connection
Colonel Satish Lalotra
Northern and central Asia in the late 19th and early 20th century was a cauldron for shadow boxing between the two great powers of that time … The UK and Russia. Both vying for the coveted jewel in the crown -India.’ The Great Game ‘ as it is now known the world over had its fair share of twists and turns. The rivalry lasting nearly 150 years, threw fascinating personalities to include Maharaja Pratap singh who was under the cloud of suspicion from the British for siding with the Russians, and maverick army officers like Lieutenant Alexender Burnes of Royal Indian army.
The later being given a carte blanche by none other than the then Governor General Lord William Bentick to proceed to Kabul to befriend Dost Mohammed Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan and reconnoitre hitherto unmapped routes /mountain passes leading to india to be taken by an invading Russian army. Imagine who did Lieutenant Alexander Burnes took with him for this nearly perilous mission.? It was one of his trusted Kashmiri friend Mohan Lal, an intelligent, imaginative well read, fluent in many languages who had a penchant for intelligence gathering and keeping his eyes and ears to the ground.
Rameshwar Nath Kao, such Kashmiri who was the founding father of organizations like RAW( Research & analysis wing), ARC( Aviation research center) and SFF( Special frontier force), the mainstay of foreign intelligence gathering was incidentally born during the height of’ The Great Game’ on 10th May 1918. It seems Kashmiris had a penchant for intelligence gathering and harnessing it for the national cause.
Having served on deputation with SFF as a young Major in the early 90s,and closely interacting with its sister organization the ARC, I was compelled to shed light on its founding father, a shy, reticent by nature individual who always preferred to remain on the side lines, notwithstanding the yeoman’s task he did for the country.
Born to the fortunate couple Dwarika nath kao and Khemwati kaul, Rameshwar Nath Kao opened his eyes to the world in an old fashioned colonial bungalow in Benares cantonment where his father was posted as a deputy collector. Kao’s ancestors were Kashmiris from the valley, when Pandit Ghasi Ram Kao the elder patriarch shifted to Delhi in search of a job. The family later shifted to Oudh during the rule of Asif -ud- Daula. Rameshwar Nath Kao (Hence forth RNK) lost his father at a very young age of 29.
With mother having become a widow at 25, RNK’S life was thrown out of gear, and was cheerless, lonely and full of fortitude. RNK spent many years of his boyhood in Baroda, where his uncle had set up a chemical factory in Gujrat. With vicissitudes of life having blighted the business of his uncle, the family finally chose to settle in Bombay ( Mumbai) at Santa Cruz, where again his uncle set up a new cement factory, which eventually also failed to take off.
Exasperated by repeated failures RNK and his cousin shifted to UP once again for studies and took admission in Lucknow university. Having graduated in 1936 from Lucknow university, he took admission in masters in English literature from Allahabad university and completed it in 1938.
Thereafter despite his mother’s protestations RNK, enrolled for the law, and just before finishing his law, cracked the elite Indian police exams. By 1940, RNK joined the IP ( Indian police),the forerunner to the current IPS, having been cleared by the Federal Service Commission Board. RNK trained at the police training college, Moradabad, where he had first time interactions with British police officers, which were far from cordial.
Having trained as Indian police officer, RNK was posted to Khiri, the HQ of Lakhimpur Khiri dist in UP, and thereafter served in various positions for 7 years in the state. 1947 was tumultuous year for RNK, when he was shifted from the IP to IB (Intelligence bureau).Change of cadre was a game changer for RNK for the rest of his life. Founded as an adhoc organization, in the late 19th century, by a British civil servant working with the East india company the IB was formally organized in 1920 modelled after the British MI5,to keep tab on the political affairs of the country at that time.
Collection of intelligence from India’s borders became an important function post 2nd WW. TG Sanjeevi Pillai the IB’s 1st India director between 1947 and 1950 considerably tried to change the job profile and philosophy of the organization by inducting more Hindu officers.
In fact according to MK Narayanan who was the IB chief in the late 80s and later as NSA, RNK was the 1st Hindu officer to join the IB. Under the British, IB used to be sole preserve of British officers and a smattering of Muslims. RNK started working closely with Bholanath Mullick, then Pillay’s deputy and longest serving director from 1950 to 1964. RNK was made incharge of Nehru’s personal security as well as that of foreign dignitaries coming to India from time to time.
RNK had the singular credit for establishing the core of intelligence gathering machinery in Ghana /Africa by the Ghanaians and for the Ghanaians on express request by their PM Dr Kawme Nkrumah to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957. The 1962 Chinese debacle put an onerous responsibility on RNK to establish 2 more new organizations viz. the ARC( Aviation research center) and the SFF( Special frontier force) under the IB.
The ARC and SFF were established in june 1963 and Nov 1962 respectively. The 1965 Indo Pak war and its aftermath brought a tectonic shift in the thinking pattern of the Indian Bureaucracy and in particular the foreign intelligence gathering mechanism of the country.
Some where in late 1967/68 Indira Gandhi the then PM ordered the dept of personnel which was incharge of the administration of the IAS and IPS to be removed from the home ministry,to be placed directly under the PMO, and commissioned RNK to produce a paper delineating the structure of a new foreign intelligence agency. This need was felt primarily due to failure of Indian intelligence in forecasting lack of ammunition availability with Pakistan during 65 ops, as also Pakistan army catching Indian defence forces by surprise in the spring of 65 in the Kutch area of Gujrat.
All said and done RAW came into existence in Oct 1968 well before the Bangladesh crisis of 1971,and cut its teeth by giving an accurate account of its assessment in a 25 page secret note dated 14th January 1971 (2 days after Yayha Khan had landed in Dacca) of Pakistan launching a military campaign against India to divert the world attention. In cohort with KF Rustamji, DG, BSF, Maj Gen SS Uban, IG SFF, RNK was able to orchestrate a well oiled plan of training Mukti Bahini cadres and unleashing them in East Pakistan with devastating results which is part of folklore now. The ultimate feather in the cap of RNK /RAW was the near bloodless merger of Sikkim as 22nd state in the union of India.
RNK & his officers worked double time for 27 months to capitulate Chogyal and his cohorts into submission. Though RNK dominated the foreign intelligence gathering, dissemination and interpretation till the early 80s,he quietly faded into retirement life after Mrs Gandhi’s assisnation in 1984. Notwithstanding the above Rameshwar Nath Kao will continue to be remembered as a colossus riding the country’s intelligence gathering landscape with aplomb having shaped its destiny in the formative years of independence.