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Spy Vs Spy: The Anti-Climax – OpEd


“oh they all openly say they went as spies.. that’s the first thing that takes the imagined glamour away na .”

“what I mean is I’m sure its a commonplace phenomenon across either side.”

“and roop lal before that. Not sure it should come as a shocker though!”

“and so many others like him on both sides. Hardly glamorous intrigue. More like tragedy.”

These are some of the Tweets sent out on June 28, 2012, by Barkha Dutt of NDTV, who has emerged as a widely-followed Tweetizen of the world.

Her Tweets were her disappointing reactions to the statement made by Surjeet Singh, the alleged R&AW spy, who crossed over into India that day after having spent years in a Pakistani prison on a charge of being a spy of the R&AW allegedly sent across the Indo-Pakistan border by the R&AW to collect intelligence.

When Pakistan announced that it was releasing Surjeet, there was considerable excitement around in the journalists’ community. Also in the general public.

They all expected Surjeet to be one like Smiley’s people crossing the border inconspicuously in the dead of the night as it was raining cats and dogs and disappearing nowhere—-never again to be seen and heard.

To die a quiet death away from the glare of publicity.

A typical return of an R&AW man from the cold, which would make all of us proud of the R&AW and give a theme for our movie-makers, who are frantically hunting for heroic R&AW stories.

A question I am often asked is: Why there are no heroic espionage stories and movies in India?

Surjeet was hardly the man from the cold. He walked across the border in bright sunlight relishing all the attention on him from his relatives, young innocents-abroad journos and officials.

“Jasoosi ki thi?”, the excited journos asked him expecting him to deny vehemently.

To their surprise and disappointment, he replied: “bilkul. Jasoosi ki thi.”

All the exciting expectations were gone in a trice.

What? This is not the way Smiley’s people behave. This is not what we had seen in Western movies.

What kind of an intelligence agency we have? Do the R&AW officers read John Le Carre and watch Western movies to learn how they are supposed to behave as spies?

Where is the glamour in the R&AW and its spies? Where is the glamour in the intelligence profession as practised in India?

No glamour in the Indian world of intelligence. Openly admitting before TV cameras that they indulged in espionage in Pakistan.

As we all retired spooks know to our discomfiture, the R&AW’s reputation—-particularly in the world of Barkha’s people—-had never been high. It reached its nadir on June 28, thanks to Surjeet and his supposed confession before the TV cameras.

At least one thing I can tell you about the R&AW people after having spent nearly three decades in that organisation having been a spy myself and controlled dozens of other spies.

We may not be as glamorous as Smiley’s people, but we are not stupid.

You will see our finger-prints in every success the nation has achieved since 1947— whether during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 or 1971 or 1999, whether in our counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the North-East, whether in East Pakistan before 1971.

Just as you will see them in every national security disaster the nation has gone through—whether during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, whether during the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, whether in Sri Lanka against the LTTE or whether against the LET on 26/11 in Mumbai.

Every intelligence organisation has its ups and downs just as every spook has.

In one way we are proud to have been different from Smiley’s people—whether of the British or American or Soviet variety.

We have never led our country into a wrongful adventure—just as the CIA did in Vietnam, the KGB did in Afghanistan and the CIA and the MI 6 did in Iraq.

There are spies and spies and spies living and operating in Pakistan. Some collecting intelligence about Pakistan. Some about the Khalistani terrorists living in Lahore. Some about the jihadi terrorists. Some about the Narco smugglers. And so on.

How many so-called flop spies Barkha has been able to name? Three—Roop Lal, Sarabjit Singh, Surjeet Singh. Possibly one or two more.

The glamour is not in a handful of guys who didn’t come up to our exotic expectation as they returned from the cold.

The glamour is in countless others who are heroically living in the cold, evading detection, and protecting Indian nationals and interests to the best of their ability.

The nation will never know of them.

But they are the unsung heroes of the R&AW.

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B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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