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A RAW hand

By C K Kutty
Last updated on: February 02, 2005 18:01 IST
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Kerala's Director General of Police P K Hormis Tharakan, who belongs to the 1968 batch of the Indian Police Service, took over as the new chief of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the external intelligence agency on February 1.

Tharakan, who will be designated as Secretary (R) in the Cabinet Secretariat, succeeds C D Sahay, a 1967 batch officer of the IPS' Karnataka cadre who retired January 31.

After R&AW was formed September 21, 1968, its founding father, the late Rameshwar Nath Kao, persuaded then prime minister Indira Gandhi to designate the head of the organisation as Secretary (R) instead of Director, R&AW, in order to underline the equality of powers and status of the head of the R&AW with the other secretaries of the Government of India.

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When Morarji Desai took over as prime minister in 1977, he abolished this designation and re-designated the chief as Director,R&AW, at par with the Director, Intelligence Bureau.

The late N F Suntook and Girish Chandra 'Gary' Saxena, the third and fourth chiefs of R&AW, were, therefore, known as Director, R&AW, and not as Secretary (R).

Before his retirement March 31,1986, Saxena persuaded then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to restore the pre-1977 designation of Secretary (R).

S E Joshi, an officer of the 1952 batch of the IPS' Maharashtra cadre, who succeeded Saxena, was designated by Rajiv Gandhi as Secretary (R), and since then, all the chiefs have been known as Secretary (R).

Since its inception, R&AW has been headed by the following officers:

Name of officer Length of tenure
R N Kao 9 years
K Sankaran Nair

3 months (He put in his papers in protest against Morarji's decision to re-designate the post)

The late N F Suntook

6 years (He had the unique distinction of working with honour under Morarji, Charan Singh and Indira Gandhi)

G C Saxena 3 years
S E Joshi 15 months
A K Verma 3 years
G S Bajpai 14 months
N Narasimhan 19 months
J S Bedi 4 months
A S Syali   3 years
Ranjan Roy 15 months
A K Dave 2 years
A S Dulat 18 months
Vikram Sood 2 years
C D Sahay 22 months
P K Hormis Tharakan From February 1 onwards

Suntook had served in the Indian Navy as an emergency commission officer, then in the IPS and from there, he opted for the Indian Frontier Administration Service during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Vikram Sood came to R&AW from the Indian Postal Service and was permanently absorbed in the Research Analysis Service (R&AS), a new All India Service in R&AW created by Indira Gandhi on Kao's advice.

Kao and Sankaran Nair belonged the Indian Police (IP) of the British colonial days, which was re-named IPS after independence. The other officers were all from the IPS.

All the IPS officers except Saxena and Dulat resigned from the IPS and chose to be permanently absorbed in the RAS.

Dulat, a member of the permanent cadre of the IB, was not eligible for permanent absorption.

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The RAS had not yet come into being when Saxena and his predecessors were the chiefs and, as such, the question of their absorption did not arise.

Over the years, many in the IB and R&AW  have recommended that the heads of the two outfits should have a fixed tenure of three years since theirs is a highly specialised job.

Any new incumbent would take at least six months to find his feet in the job even if he is from the profession, and outsiders would take even longer, they argued.

But there was strong opposition to this from the Indian Administrative Service and no political ruler was prepared to overrule their position.

As a result, Tharakan will have a tenure of only five months, unless the government decides to extend it.

It is said when he was sounded by the Prime Minister's Office for this post, he had said there would be hardly any point in his moving over from Thiruvanathapuram to New Delhi just for five months and had expressed his preference to continue and retire as Kerala's DGP. Despite this, the government decided to appoint him as R&AW chief.

One of the important and sensitive responsibilities of the head of R&AW is to maintain the network of its liaisons with the intelligence agencies of other countries.

This network is important for political as well as operational reasons.

Not infrequently, the chief executives in many countries use this network for informal and secret interactions with their counterparts in other countries through the intelligence chiefs of those countries.

Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi used this network on many occasions to sort out difficulties with countries such as the US, the erstwhile USSR, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia etc.

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V P Singh and those who followed him did not use it, but A B Vajpayee, through Brajesh Mishra, his National Security Adviser, was reported to have used R&AW's liaison network for mending fences with China after the difficulties created by China's adverse reaction to India's nuclear tests in May, 1998.

Professionally, this network plays a very important role in counter-terrorism. Good personal vibrations of the R&AW chief with his counterparts in other countries help considerably in this.

An incoming R&AW chief would normally take at least about six to eight months to get to know the chiefs of other countries and establish a good working understanding with them. Unfortunately, Tharakan may not have this benefit unless the government decides to extend his tenure.

When Ajit Doval, another IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, was appointed DIB last year hardly eight months before his superannuation, there was general expectation that he would be given an extension so that he could have a longer tenure, but this was belied and he too retired on January 31.

P V Narasimha Rao gave a one-year extension to Syali, but was disinclined to give a similar extension to JS Bedi, who thus was in office for only four months.

H D Deve Gowda gave a few months extension to Ranjan Roy, who otherwise would have had a tenure of less than a year.

Tharakan supersedes Jyoti Sinha, an IPS officer of the 1967 batch from Bihar, who was No 2 to Sahay and held office as Special Secretary.

He would have still had six months of service on January 31, but the government decided to transfer him out of R&AW and post him as secretary (co-ordination) in the main office of the Cabinet Secretariat with no responsibilities relating to R&AW.

He has reportedly decided not to accept the new post and to go on premature retirement.

This is not the first time a No 2 in R&AW has been superseded and a junior has been appointed the chief. S E Joshi had superseded R T Nagrani.

Since Nagrani, an otherwise outstanding officer, had only a few months service left at the time of Gary Saxena's superannuation, Rajiv Gandhi appointed Joshi as Secretary (R).

At the same time, he gave independent charge of the directorate general of security (DGS) to Nagrani and gave him the same rank and pay as Joshi. After Nagrani retired a few months later, the DGS reverted to the control of Secretary (R).

Dulat, who was brought into R&AW from the IB, had superseded R Nagarajan, an officer of the Information Service, who had been permanently absorbed in the RAS.

Vikram Sood had superseded S Sunderrajan, an IPS officer of the Delhi Union Territory cadre.

Sahay superseded R S 'Billy' Bedi, a former Indian Army officer.

While Nagarajan and Sunderrajan accepted posts of equal rank and pay outside the intelligence community, Bedi, who had only about eight months of service left at the time of his supersession, accepted another post of equivalent rank and pay inside the intelligence community as the head of the newly-created technical intelligence organisation called the National Technical Facilities Organisation, with a tenure of two years.

Next: The outsider

Image: Uday Kuckian

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C K Kutty