Full title: The Kaoboys of R&AW:Down Memory Lane
Published : 2007
About the author: B. Raman served as the head of the counter-terrorism division of the R&AW from 1988 to 1994. He was one of the few officers who were witness to the creation of the R&AW in 1967, prior to which he served in the External Intelligence Division of the Intelligence Bureau(IB). Sadly, he passed away in 2013 because of cancer.
This book is probably the first to be written by a former Indian intelligence officer. And this is significant because some of the revelations made in this book are being discussed till date with many opinions and counter-opinions. Even before I bought this book I knew that it wouldn’t exactly be a “tell-all”. “Spooks”, as spies are often referred to, very rarely do actually tell-all. But that being said, there were a lot of surprising insights.
R.N.Kao established the R&AW after the 1962 Indo-China War. Before this, external intelligence was also being handled by the IB. While doing so, Kao handpicked a group of officers from the Indian Police Service (IPS) to build the institution and Raman was one of them. This group came to be known as the “Kaoboys”. Interestingly, the term “Kaoboys” was coined by George Bush Sr. it seems.
The book traces important events in India’s history like the 1971 Bangladesh war, Khalistan movement and Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Sri Lanka and the IPKF, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and insurgency in the North-East.Raman also talks of the problems created by ISI, India’s co-operation with the French and British intelligence agencies and its uneasy relationship with the CIA.
But the reason why the book is to be appreciated is because Raman doesn’t shy away from being absolutely direct with his criticism, be it of the political leadership or of the R&AW itself. While he generously praises successes, he also points out a lot of areas where tremendous improvement is needed.
If at all I have to point out a negative, I would say that the book could have used a little more editing to make it taut. But I don’t want to harp on this because he starts off the book with a tribute to a young editor Shakthi Bhatt. It seems she was the one who successfully convinced him to use his retirement to write the book but before he could finish it and hand it over to her, she passed away from an illness. He mentions that he gave up on the book but felt compelled to finish writing it as a tribute to her memory.
Predictably, everyone who knew of his service to the nation were saddened by his death in 2013. In the last chapter he writes that he is tired of years of anonymity and that he is going to speak out as much as possible. And that is exactly what he did. Till his demise, he was very active on twitter (@SORBONNE75) and was an active blogger too.
RIP Mr. Raman !
If interested, you can check out his blog here.