R.N. Kao Founder of R&AW

rn kao Founder of R&AW

ameshwar Nath Kao 

RAMESHWAR Nath Kao was born in a Kashmiri Pandit family on May 10, 1918 at Banaras, i.e. Varanasi. One of his ancestors was a Dewan with one of the Nawabs of Lucknow. 

His father was Deputy Collector in the UP Civil Service. His father died when Kao was five years of age after which he was brought up by his grandfather and uncle under the strict discipline of his mother. 

According to Kao due to the death of his father at the young age of 29, his entire family particularly his mother did not recover from the tragedy which ultimately changed his own outlook during his childhood which was rather cheerless and lonely. But his uncle looked after Kao very well like his own son. He did his schooling at various places after the death of his father due to various family circumstances. He wanted to become an Engineer or driver of a steam locomotive during his childhood days. Kao completed his graduation from Lucknow University in 1936. 

He then took admission for M.A. in English Literature at Allahabad University. He secured first position in M.A. for which a gold medal was awarded to him. He qualified in the Federal Public Commission in 1940 for the Indian Police and was allotted UP Cadre. 

He joined the service on April 7, 1940 at Moradabad for training. For a short stint in between, he served as a Lecturer of English at Allahabad University.

According to Kao, during the course of police training at Moradabad, the British officers used to encourage the Indian origin trainees to affect a contemptuous attitude towards the average Indian. In this pursuit, the Indians were asked to assiduously reflect the views and opinions of their British colleagues who were also receiving training with them. Their contempt towards the national movement of Indian National Congress was reflected from the fact when Kao was singled out by the principal of the training school for reading Hindustan Times newspaper which was not allowed inside the school for spearheading the news in this regard.

After independence, Intelligence Bureau (IB) was set up with some police officers taken on deputation from various states and he joined IB in 1948 as Assistant Director in-charge of security and posted as the Personal Security Officer of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

In the early phase of his career, in April 1955, he was assigned a very ticklish intelligence operation. Chinese Government chartered an Air India Super Constellation plane ‘Kashmir Princess’ from Hong Kong for Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia where the first ever conference of non-aligned countries was to be held in a city called Bandung. It was believed that Chou En-lai, the Prime Minister of China was to travel to Indonesia in this plane but due to health problem he abandoned his visit temporarily.

On April 11, 1955, this plane ‘Kashmir Princess’took off from the Hong Kong airport with Chinese delegates and some press correspondents and crashed in the Indonesian sea as a result of sabotage which was engineered by Taiwan Intelligence (Formosa at that time). Chinese Government raised a big hue and cry over this crash and Chou En-lai insisted Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at Bandung conference that Indian Intelligence should be a party to the investigation in Hong Kong as he neither had faith in Hong Kong nor in the British authorities. Nehru directed B.N. Mullick, the then Director of IB to depute a capable officer to participate in the investigation at Hong Kong.

Mullick assigned this arduous and sensitive assignment to the young R.N. Kao. He performed this assignment to the full satisfaction of Chou En-lai and briefed him at Beijing personally. Chou En-lai presented Kao his personal seal as souvenir when Kao met him in his office.

Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana was very friendly with the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nkrumah sought help from Nehru to set-up his security organization in Ghana since it became independent from the colonial rule and was confronting serious internal and external problems. 

R.N. Kao was selected for this job and in a span of one year he not only formed the security structure of Ghana but also groomed two officers of that country to head it in the coming future. Nkrumah wanted him to continue this job for another one year but Kao declined and returned to India and promised to send another suitable officer in his place. Subsequently, K. Sankaran Nair, a very capable officer, was sent to Ghana to complete the remaining work of Kao.

Formation of R&AW

After the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mrs. Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India in early 1966. In 1968, she decided to form a separate external intelligence department based on CIA of USA and MI6 of Britain. She selected R.N. Kao for this job who was Joint Director in the IB. She wanted a loyal man of known integrity. Kao had served as the Personal Security Officer of Pandit Nehru and accompanied Queen Elizabeth and Chou En-lai as Security Officer when they visited India first time in the regime of Nehru.

Many eyebrows were raised on the selection of Kao of his being Kashmiri Pandit origin but she was firm in her decision. Indira Gandhi gave Kao a free hand, except for two conditions that the new organization should be multidisciplined one and should not draw its higher personnel exclusively from the IPS. 

Secondly the top two posts should be filled at the discretion of the Prime Minister from within the organization or outside. Kao prepared a blue print for the new intelligence set-up based on detailed studies of CIA, MI6, French intelligence, Mossad and Japanese intelligence which was accepted by the Cabinet and the new external intelligence agency R&AW was created on

September 21, 1968 with a skeleton staff of 250 taken from the IB. K. Sankaran Nair another able officer from IB was selected as his deputy. The then Director of IB M.M.L. Hooja fought tooth and nail to deny the new agency the chattels of office, like building, furniture, accounts staff and food personnel but with the help of another capable army officer I.S. Hassanwalia, R&AW started firing on all cylinders within one year.

In the new outfit Kao, introduced many new divisions based on his studies of various international intelligence agencies. Economic intelligence was a distant idea of that era because there was no such concept in the erstwhile IB. This division was then created to monitor various economic developments in the neighbouring countries which could affect the Indian interests particularly in the fields of defence, security and science and technology. Similarly, Information Division, Science and Technology Division, code-breaking branch, Satellite Monitoring Division etc., were also the new chapters opened in R&AW. 

Prior to this, Aviation Research Centre (ARC) was his brainchild in IB after the 1962 war with China. Later on, in the early eighties, terrorism in Punjab reached to its peak and the Government needed a guerrilla outfit which was created by R.N. Kao in the form of National Security Guard (NSG) in 1982.

When Pakistan army started its brutality in East Pakistan in March 1971, millions of refugees thronged India and caused several major problems for India. When Indira Gandhi did not find a political solution to sort out this grievous situation, she asked ‘Army Chief General Manekshaw to get the Indian Army ready for liberation of Bangladesh who sought six months’ time for the preparation. Kao was asked by Indira Gandhi to prepare ground-work for the army before the final assault and use R&AW to its optimum in this operation. 

Kao with the help of his able colleagues, build up a formidable guerrilla force (Mukti Bahini) of more than one lakh Bangladeshi refugees, which created havoc for the Pakistani army in East Pakistan. Besides that R&AW penetrated deep into all the establishments of East and West Pakistan and when the Indian Army went for the final war on December 3, 1971, 93,000 soldiers of Pakistan army were hauled up in Dacca and made to surrender to the Indian Army before Lt. Gen. J.S. Aurora on December 16, 1971, i.e. within two weeks of the start of army action. This was the biggest and historical landmark for R&AW under R.N. Kao in the intelligence history of India.

In the North-East of India, Sikkim was a strategic state in between India and China. There were some internal problems between the ruler of Sikkim and the local population which was beyond the control of the ruler. R.N. Kao advised Indira Gandhi to merge Sikkim for which she agreed. In this bloodless operation of R&AW, Sikkim was merged with India as the 22nd State without the intervention of defence forces. This was another feather in the cap of R.N.Kao.

Nuclear Explosion

In May 1974, India exploded its first nuclear blast at Pokhran in Rajasthan to the utter surprise of many countries, particularly USA. CIA had received 26 reports in 1972 that India was on the verge of exploding a nuclear device or was capable of doing so. R.N. Kao was coordinating with the scientists of this operation on security matters. It must be to his credit that he kept the entire programme under wrap and did not allow to get wind of it to other nations for any penetration. Only after the explosion, Pakistan radio made a broadcast at 1

p.m. on that day and the rest of the world started probing the truth about it. This was another major achievement of this elite intelligence officer of India.

Foreign Assignments

R.N. Kao had excellent rapport with his many counterparts in other countries. He was a good friend of George Bush Senior who was Director of CIA in the mid-seventies. Likewise Sir Maurice Oldfield, head of MI6, during this period was a personal friend of Kao and shared views with him on various art and cultural matters besides the routine intelligence sharing. He was the model for ‘M’, James Bond’s secret service chief in the 007 novels of Ian Fleming. He used to come on long vacations India as personal guest of Kao in the midseventies and visited important towns like Jaipur or Jaisalmer on the verge of the desert for relaxation. 

Mossad Chief and French Intelligence also had excellent rapport with Kao during this period. When Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the Prime Minister of Mauritius visited India in the early seventies, he requested Indira Gandhi to help his ruling party to fight the Mauritian Militant Movement of Paul Berenger. Ramgoolam’s party was largely ethnic Indian in composition while Berenger’s was the party of the Ceroles, the Africans of the island who spoke ‘patois’, a mixture of French and African languages. K. Sankaran Nair, the number two in R&AW, was deputed by Kao to provide all sorts of help to Ramgoolam and he won the next election.

Wali Khan, son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi and a stalwart in the independence movement, was living in exile in London in the early seventies. He was a bitter opponent of Z.A. Bhutto, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, because the North-West Frontier Pathans were demanding autonomy which was oppressed by the Central Government of Pakistan. 

Wali Khan wanted moral, political and other support from Mrs. Indira Gandhi. R.N. Kao sent his deputy Sankaran Nair to negotiate as the Indian representative.

Since Pakistani Embassy in London was keeping watch on the movements of Wali Khan, the rendezvous was shifted to Copenhagen in Sweden where Nair and another R&AW man of Indian mission I.S. Hassanwalia met Wali Khan. Subsequently all sorts of support was given to Wali Khan by the Indian Government till 1977 when Indira Gandhi lost election.

Unsung Hero

Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in India in June 1975 and arrested most of the opposition leaders all over the country. There were charges of brutality and torture against these leaders. Ultimately, when in March 1977, she lifted emergency and held parliamentary elections, she was routed in whole of North

India and Morarji Desai of Janata Party became the new Prime Minister of India. Since, most of these leaders were recently released from jail, they apprehended that R&AW was misused by Mrs. Indira Gandhi during emergency against these leaders. R.N. Kao, who was on extension of his service, was unceremoniously asked by Morarji Desai to proceed on leave because he suspected him as the prime accused during Emergency. 

Charan Singh, the then Home Minister of India, appointed a one man committee headed by S.P. Singh to find out the involvement of R&AW in the internal affairs of the country during Emergency in 1975-77. This committee gave clean chit to R&AW in this regard and Kao was honourably exonerated for his involvement in Emergency.

After Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1980, she called Kao from his retirement and appointed him as her senior advisor on internal and external developments. She used to consult him on political and intelligence matters. His professional guidance was of general nature. In one major development, when Indira Gandhi wanted to go USA she was not getting her choice of date of appointment with the US President through External Affairs Ministry channels. R.N. Kao through his friend George Bush Senior arranged her meeting with the US President.

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated, he was upset over her death and resigned on moral grounds. There were charges against Kao that he did not guide Indira Gandhi against a possible assassination attack from her security guards which were not substantiated in the Judicial Commission which was appointed subsequently to probe the assassination. P.C. Alexander, Principal Secretary of Indira Gandhi, was jealous of Kao’s brilliance. His close proximity with Indira Gandhi was also a reason of his being envious to Kao. 

When Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, Alexander used to mouth and misguide him against Kao. In this working culture, Kao found himself uncomfortable and send his resignation to Rajiv Gandhi which was accepted by him.

R.N. Kao was very affectionately and emotionally linked to his younger brother who suffered a heart attack. He went to see him in the hospital and fainted there after visiting his ailing brother. Kao too had a massive heart failure and died on the spot on January 20, 2002. 

This unsung hero was forgotten by the Indian Government for his sterling contributions to India which has no parallel in this hidden society of intelligence community. He gave a lot to the country but got nothing. However, he got so many of his juniors decorated with numerous awards and rewards of the government.

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