Far from the glamourised avatar of James Bond that the Indian audiences grew up loving, our intelligence agencies, especially the Intelligence Bureau professionals, are a demoralised lot, writes Kumar Chellappan
Every time the Government of India announces the name of the new directors of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country’s premier internal and external spy agencies, the first image that comes to the mind is that of James Bond, the hero of the spy novels authored by Ian Fleming way back in the 1950s and 1960s. More than the books, what made James Bond, a fictional character, immortal was Sean Connery, the British actor who played the role of the master spy in seven of the feature films based on the novels authored by Fleming. Tall and handsome, Bond was the commander of MI6, the British Secret Service and was known globally as “Agent 007” with a licence to kill. The most memorable of the films are: Dr No, Thunderball, Goldfinger, You Love Only Twice, among others. And, how can we forget his signature dialogue: “My name is Bond… James Bond”.
Though many movies were shot in later years with other actors playing the role of Bond, none of them could impress my generation as Sean Connery did. We grew up watching the Bond movies at Sridhar, a modern theatre in Ernakulam, where they screened only Hollywood films. To our mind, James Bond was the ultimate spy. He drove around in custom built Aston Martin cars, had special executive aircraft at his disposal for flying to any continent at the drop of a hat and was an authority on guns, missiles, nuclear war heads and, of course, a charmer with most beautiful women. Bond drank Vodka Martini, Scotch and Soda and Gin and Tonic! Bond, the spy, who loved all good things in life, influenced generations of his era.
Come to think of it, for most of us, who grew up in a world sans satellite TV channels, internet, mobile phones and even land lines, spy meant James Bond. To the youth of my times, a spy was the most powerful and glamorous job in the world. He inspired so many of us to customise our vehicles, take up shooting or join NCC so they could be as cool as the man himself!
There were movies in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada inspired by the Bond movies. The script writers and directors (who were clearly not as skilled as their counterparts in Hollywood) churned out desi versions of James Bond. Jayashankar, a Tamil hero of the 60s and 70s vintage was known as James Bond Jayashankar because he played the role of a secret agent in most of his movies. I have seen Kannada star, Rajkumar (yes, the same actor who was kidnapped by brigand Veerappan) playing the lead as Kannada James Bond in a movie, tilted Operation Jackpot Nalli CID 999. Clearly, the name CID 999 was inspired by Agent 007, the code number of James Bond!
As a mark of respect to the Indian economy of those days, our desi Bonds travelled in Indian Airlines flights and drove around in Land Master, Ambassador and Herald. The villains, of course, used Willy’s Jeeps of the Second World War days. Interestingly, all these spies/detectives were summoned by the police chiefs of the States when their own police forces failed to solve incidents of murders, counterfeit currency note printing, smuggling and bank robberies. The spies always travelled incognito, sometime as lorry drivers, pick-pockets or even postmen to deceive the villains!
The first time we came across a real time spy was when Venugopal, a post graduate youth in our locality got a job through UPSC recruitment as intelligence officer. His school mate Raveendran explained to us that Venugopal would soon be the Indian version of James Bond. Venugopal, tall and handsome, had all the characteristics of an Indian James Bond and we youngsters were all awed. We were all abound with the curiosity to find out from him on how to become a spy. But the man being very reserved stayed aloof from us youngsters and that was that.
Over the years, while working as reporter and TV programme producer, professional commitments brought me in touch with intelligence professionals like B Raman who was an additional secretary in the RAW. His speeches at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai and seminars held by Vigil India were educative, enthralling and exciting as well as thought provoking. It was Raman who told us that one need not be in the Bond genre to be a good spy and intelligence professional. The gimmicks and theatrics of James Bond that we saw in movies were pure fiction and had no similarities with what we all saw in Hollywood and Indian movies. There was nobody with license to kill, either!
What we learnt from his well-drafted and witty speeches was that the Intelligence Bureau of India is the world’s second oldest internal agency with a history of over a hundred years. It was established in 1887 and evolved from the Anti-Thuggery Department of the British Police. By the time India got its freedom from the colonial masters, Communism had emerged as a major security threat all over the democratic world and India was no exception. The then Soviet Union, popularly known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) had recruited many persons from the Third World countries who were educated at institutions like Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow (since renamed as People’s Friendship University of Russia) with the agenda to use them to subvert the culture and democratic system prevailing in the latter’s nations.
The extra-territorial loyalty of the newly recruited Communists was a matter of concern for the security heads of the nations. “The Communist parties of the erstwhile USSR and other countries as well as the Communist International underlined the importance of ideological solidarity amongst the communists of the world, whatever their nationality. It was propagated that loyalty to the communist ideology came before loyalty to the nation of which the Communist was a citizen and that it was the duty of Communists all over the world to cooperate with the Communist Party of the USSR for the success of Communism,” explained Raman, through his speeches and writings.
Many intellectuals and politicians from India were taken to holiday spots in the Soviet Union for cocktail dinners and junkets during 1950s to 1980s by the then Communist Government in that country. All of them came back, brain-washed and inculcated with strong anti-India feelings. To keep the flock to their eternal servility, the USSR Government had established Soviet Land-Nehru Awards and winners were taken for holidays in that country for periods ranging from a fortnight to a month. They came back singing paeans to Communism and abusing the Indian system!
With the help of comrades who have managed to infiltrate into the corridors f power in New Delhi and State capitals, these recruits tried to a great extent in subverting the Indian democratic institutions. Many pro-Soviet bureaucrats, judges, academicians, scientists and medical doctors got a strong foothold in the country’s venerated institutions. India’s great culture, heritage and civilisation were consigned to dustbins while those owing allegiance to Moscow were appointed as chroniclers of the more than five thousand year old history of India. The great works done by leading historian R C Majumdar went unrecognised while the adulterated, polluted and manipulated records whetted by party apparatchiks were masqueraded as the “original Indian history”. The new history being taught in schools and university smelt of vodka and gin, termed many historians.
One of the tasks of the intelligence professionals was to prevent cultural subversion by the comrades and fellow travellers. Counter-intelligence and counter subversion were their major missions. Counter-intelligence was the process of preventing and neutralising attempts to penetrate the State apparatus by foreign agencies for the collection of intelligence. It prevented and neutralised attempts to subvert the loyalty of the citizens of a country for ideological reasons. “These operations were centrally directed from Moscow and Beijing with the willing complicity of the Communist parties of different countries,” wrote Raman in his book ‘Intelligence-Past, Present and Future’.
The disintegration of USSR and the destruction of Communism post 1991 gave way to the rising of Islamic terrorism, a hydra-headed monster. While the Intelligence professionals in India were monitoring the growth of Communism and Maoist groups in the country, the Islamic terrorism struck them like an avalanche. The radicalised Islamic youths belonged to the new age and tech savvy. Words like improvised explosive devices, RDX and AK-47 rifles became synonymous with their kind of terrorism.
“Like the pre-1991 international communism, the post-1979 international jihadi Islamism propagates international solidarity based not on ideological, but on religious affinity and extra-territorial loyalty. For its proponents, loyalty to the Ummah comes before loyalty to the nation of which Muslims are citizens and the followers irrespective of their nationality have not only a right but also the religious obligation to help Muslims suppressed anywhere in the world. Their concept of jihad does not recognise the sanctity of international borders,” Raman wrote way back in 2002. This means that what we are seeing in Jammu & Kashmir, synchronised bomb blasts in Mumbai and elsewhere in India, the Love Jihad and the exodus of one community from places like Meerut and Khairana in Uttar Pradesh are just sample fireworks!
It is here that one should listen to the suppressed emotions of the intelligence community. The real life intelligence professional is a person like you and me, part of the society of common man. He/she does not have the perks of the intelligence officers we see in movies, not to speak about James Bond. It is yet another government job which requires 24x7 devotion and dedication. These professionals do not perform the acrobatics carried out by Connery in films. They do not have even own a four-wheeler and are dependent on public transport for tracking suspects and targets. They do not have official mobile phones or laptops not to speak about inter-connectivity. When not gathering intelligence inputs, they are worried about the dearness allowances due to them and educational expenses of their children.
Over and above all these issues, the IB officers do not have any police powers. They cannot carry out any mission or work without the cooperation of the police department of the State where they are posted.
As part of convincing the world about their secular credentials, the State governments in many states had appointed persons with dubious past to head the intelligence wings. A former police chief of Kerala has expressed his concerns over the infiltration of personnel with links to terrorist network into the intelligence units! In Tamil Nadu, a person who has been charged of financial impropriety and violating official norms was heading the intelligence wing of the police for some time.
Our intelligence agencies, especially the Intelligence Bureau professionals are a demoralised lot. They face unprecedented opposition and resistance from the so called civilised society. “In the recent years, states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, have shown tendency to disobey the laws of the land and foreign policy. This has only facilitated anti-national tendencies and fissiparous groups. In order to break the networks of these fissiparous groups, an amendment is needed in Unlawful Activities Act so that NIA has the jurisdiction to suo moto investigate the cases without the concurrence of the State. This will ensure that the funding channels are also systematically detected,” says a suggestion prepared by the intelligence community. There is also a demand from the community to empower the IB with police powers. “The growth of terrorism and secessionist forces in the country has complicated the working conditions of the IB. If only the agency is vested with powers to interrogate the suspects, we will be able to find out the plot and plans,” said a senior official. He pointed out that countries like USA and Israel have empowered their secret agents with police powers.
The Homeland Security system of the US evolved post 9/11 is worth emulating. “They now have an intelligence enterprise amalgamating various wings such as Immigration, Foreigners, Coastal Security, Airport Security (Transport Security Agency-TSA). An intelligence enterprise has been formed which is holistic,” pointed out the suggestions prepared by seasoned intelligence professionals who do not have any vested interests other than the security and safety of the country.
These intelligence professionals do not have the flamboyance associated with 007 or 999. But we sleep peacefully because they monitor the goings on all over the country within their limited means and resources. It is time the powers that be heard their grievances too.
Venugopal had a massive heart attack and breathed his last in 2004. His brother Murali retired from service six years later and leads a peaceful life somewhere in Kerala. We could not get any information from them about the life of a spy. My colleagues, who were intent on becoming spies are leading businessmen and traders in Mumbai and Perumbavoor. But we still enjoy the re-run of films like Dr No, Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, and others. And are looking for that Indian agent who would tell the global terrorists that “Yes, my name is Murugan... Murugan from India”!
Perhaps Arvind Kumar, the new IB chief may be able to mould a desi 007.