Book Review | Open Secrets: The Explosive Memoirs of an Indian Intelligence Officer

 By Paridhi Billore
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Author : Maloy Krishna Dhar Publisher : Manas Publications Mainak Dhar (01 June 2012) Language : English Hardcover : 512 Pages ISBN : 9788170492405 (ISBN-13: 978-8170492405)

“A king shall have his agents in the courts of the enemy, the ally, the middle and the neutral kings to spy on the kings as well as eighteen types of high officials”

Kautilya’s Arthashastra

The national security of any country largely depends upon the intelligentsia working diligently under it. Today, as we see, India has various Intelligence agencies such as Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, Directorate of Military Intelligence etc. working to strengthen the core of India’s security channels. The memoirs of an Intelligence Officer presented by the author, Maloy Krishna Dhar takes us through the unprecedented journey across his thirty -year long career which has detailed insights into Intelligence Bureau’s functioning and a piercing gaze into the political machinations underlying them.

The author clearly mentions that this book isn’t an Autobiography. Rather it’s a collection of major incidences in his policing career as an intelligence officer. He acknowledges the fact that the dangerous encounters he faced during his posting in North Eastern areas infested with Naxalism deeply shaped his ideology and rather reformed it in many ways.

By beginning, every new chapter with a related quote to introduce the context unfolding in the chapter, the author has made it quite interesting for the reader to dwell upon his written work. The book with its story-like format is credited to the author’s past experience of writing lucidly, to his earlier days as a journalist. The delivery has a gripping hold on its readers who can connect the dots of the past incidences and yet gain a lot of current oversight from it.

In 32 chapters, the author reflects upon arduous tasks to handle the tactics of revolting Gorkhas, while exploring his love for the Himalayas and scaling the heights of Kanchenjunga. As he talks about the Naxalbari area, he reflects upon his posting as an IPS probationer to Siliguri subdivision and Naxalbari Police station in Darjeeling in 1965.

In the initial chapter, the author talks about Intelligence agencies and their vital role as a tool for maintaining law and order for the nation’s welfare. About the formation of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the author attributes it to Victorian times. The author says that the British Empire used the IB for ruling with an iron hand; to limit the activities of Indian Nationalists, to cause communal infiltration, and primarily to deal with the “Swadeshi Rogues”.

Talking about the Parliamentary oversight in the matters of IB, the author compares other intelligence agencies of the world such as the CIA or Ml6, where these units cannot get away with the intelligence faux pas compared to India where citing the secrecy reasons, there is moderately lesser supervision.

In subsequent chapters, he draws major concerns regarding the recruitment of police officers on deputation from State police forces. He mentions that in earlier days, IB followed the “earmarking” scheme of IPS officers that created a dearth of the talent pool. This recruitment issue was also found in other agencies such as R&AW which suffered from the “tail-end syndrome”. He tries to explain how a modest form of training being imparted to the IB officers is at times caught off-the guard while dealing with the entire spectrum of international terrorism disseminating the deepest heinous criminal ideas.

The impromptu missions carried out without setting the chords straight between state and central police forces often result in incoherence and chaos. The author tries to bring out the necessity of having a Joint Intelligence Committee for multi-agency coordination. The author reflects upon serious gaps in communication such as those observed in Hill Kaka (Surankot) that had resulted in stark disasters where the security of the country could have been compromised.

Along with this, the rising political hegemony and “overlordism” in the IB were clearly indicated by the author. He bluntly points toward the tasks assigned to IB such as to carry out election prospect study, verifying the credentials and suitability of the ruling party candidates, and meticulously studying the weaknesses of the opposition candidates. The author also talks about such cases, wherein the officials were pushed into the sheer game of double­ dealing by openly flouting the intelligence-gathering mandate given to IB.

Advocating the freedom of the intelligence and enforcement machineries, the author tries to draw the attention of the judiciary, media, academia, and intellectuals to start a national debate in and outside the Parliament. Citing examples from the past, the author rests his case by strongly opposing the mandate wherein the intelligence community was left solely to cater to the needs of certain errant leaders and execute the dictates of national emergency.

The author describes in subsequent chapters, his talks, and meetings with Charu Majumdar who had broken away from the Communist Party. As the discussions unfolded, the author was able to assess his philosophy of action. He certainly agreed with the exploitation issues but didn’t agree with the usage of the “barrel-of-the-gun” thesis and the utility of mass killings.

The author also sums up his meetings with Jangal Santhal and Kanu Sanyal. As he often met these leaders, he tried to understand their perspective on land-related rebellions. The author further alludes that he was even more interested to know about the issues of similar tribal land rebellions in parts of Bihar, Bengal, UP, and Andhra. In the chapters, he reveals that he became sympathetic to the philosophy and to the fact that even after hundreds of years, nothing had been done to improve the conditions of rural poor tribes.

The author rests his concerns for the people of “Outer India” for which bureaucracy had less or little concerns. Although the author was sensitive to their issues and was sympathetic towards their causes, nevertheless, he didn’t support the means that they had adopted. These were against the Constitution of India and were not in the favour of Democracy.

The author tries to explain how the Naxalites were different from the Maoists who wanted to set up a parallel political force that wanted to change everything through the barrel of a gun. Their deadly guerrilla warfare tactics were terrorizing the entire northeastern state. As a bureaucrat, he tried to find solutions for the violent land rebellions in a rather peaceful way; which he refers to as (Non-cooperation or Asahayoga). He writes that as a part of the rebellion, Naxal leaders could use tactics such as refusal to pay taxes, immobilizing civil administration, and paralyzing the state machineries till they realized that their votes could no more be purchased, coerced or forced. As per ‘Asahayoga’ it was although a slow but most effective way of making the voice of people heard.

This book discusses how his subsequent encounters with various Maoist leaders, made the author conclude that Maoist insurgency was a form of guerrilla warfare or armed insurgency. Here the open rebellion engaged between the state and armed men who based their Jungle Guerrilla warfare on Mao’s policy. This, as the author quotes was the “Ultimate form of terrorism which was operated after the establishment of cells, modules committed to spreading sporadic acts of terror among the people.

While dwelling upon his experiences, he recalls some deadly encounters where he and his family were even attacked by a mob under the pretext of being an “outsider and informer”. It was later, that he realized that those who had picked up arms and were supposedly engaged in terror activities came to his rescue. The author tries to bring out a humane side of such people. By shedding his biases against a particular community, he realizes the value of human life that lies insignificantly packed in rusty files in the corner of bureaucrats’ offices.

The author tries to shed light on some benign issues: be it the Kanishka bombing case, the ISRO spy case, or be it the IB snooping scandal over certain high-profile political families and keeping tab over the then Home Minister Gyani Zail Singh. He aggressively puts his stance, on the misuse and mishandling of Intelligence agencies to fulfill personal political vendetta.

A lot of undercover efforts were put to dig down the details of Pro-Khalistan supporters in Canada. The operational head of the Khalistan separatist movement, and terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was under the watchful eye of 18 at that time. Right from working under heavy surveillance of Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), to forging a deeply knit network of espionage and intelligence gathering in Mission Ottawa is all mentioned in the book by the author.

The author has skilfully portrayed India’s Political tussles and the gruesome challenges faced by the Indian Intelligence units to dodge them and yet excel in the covert tasks they are assigned to safeguard their country’s National Security.

This book is highly recommended for the select audience who shall like to savor the “Operational and Tactical” encounters of Intelligentsia, the nitty gritty of political melodrama staged in the backdrop of historical events. This book is Pandora’s box, justifying the title, “Open Secrets” making the most extreme revelations. Against the legacy that says, “Certain truths are better protected when buried under permafrost”, this book does exactly the opposite. It dwells upon those dark secrets and even reveals those murkier ones that attract the hatred and scrutiny of Political Mafias. These tales of skullduggery of the IB working as a handmaiden to successive political regimes; of counterintelligence operations ending into fiascos and controversial revelations of operations are all written quite professionally.