How RAW, India's intelligence agency, fared under 21 spymasters in 48 years

RK Yadav
RK YadavSep 22, 2016 | 18:05

How RAW, India's intelligence agency, fared under 21 spymasters in 48 years

The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) is celebrating its 48th raising day today (September 22) at its headquarters and among its staff wherever they are posted.

The legendary RN Kao founded the organisation on this day in 1968. He started the new assignment in bitter wrangling with some of his erstwhile colleagues who were hell-bent on thwarting his effort. But the diktat of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi prevailed and Kao started a new mission with 250 skeleton staff provided by then honchos of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).


Kao era

Kao started from scratch and within three years, the RAW played a pivotal role in the liberation of Bangladesh, as well as the merger of Sikkim, a territory of more than 7000 sqkm, into sovereign India. No intelligence agency in the world, be it the CIA or MOSSAD, has achievements to parallel Kao's in just seven years of RAW's inception.

This was the glorious era of RAW under Kao. Unfortunately, in 1977 then PM Morarji Desai cut the wings of this agency with the weary assumption that Indira Gandhi misused it against her political opponents during the Emergency in 1975-77.

Staff strength was reduced and many major transborder operations were scuttled. Kao and Sankaran Nair, his next junior, were prematurely sent out of the wing. The mediocre NFSuntook was appointed to a rank lower than Kao's. It was a severe blow to the fast-growing prime intelligence outfit.

Indira Gandhi returned to rule again in 1980 and Kao was appointed as her senior adviser since he had retired from active service. As usual, Kao did not sit idle and got Siachen annexed despite strong Pakistan and Chinese presence on both sides of the glacier.


The LTTE was raised to help the Tamil population in Sri Lanka in self-determination against persecution by the Sinhalese. The National Security Guard (NSG) was raised to combat terrorism, which was a new security  concern after such Pakistan-sponsored threat in Punjab.

Kao resigned after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, and Rajiv Gandhi started his inning as PM with new blend of advisers. The Indian Peace Keeping Force fiasco and Rajiv's resultant killing by the LTTE cadre were the byproducts of experimental planning.

Other chiefs

So far, the RAW has had 20 chiefs after the departure of Kao. His shadow Sankaran Nair served for three months when he confronted Morarji Desai against stoppage of important operations in adjoining countries.

Four chiefs, namely Suntook, SE Joshi, AK Verma and Ashok Chaturvedi, have died. The eldest among the rest, GC Saxena, who was later the governor of Jammu & Kashmir, is the living patriarch now.

Only two non-police officers, Suntook and Vikram Sood, had the privilege to out-class the strong police lobby of RAW. Suntook, an officer from the Indian Frontier Administrative Service, brainchild of Nehru, was an accidental chief but Sood, a postal service officer, proved to be a good manipulator.

The legendary RN Kao founded the RAW in 1968. (Photo credit: India Today)

Rana Banerji, the first Indian Administrative Service officer vying for the office, missed by a whisker. MK Narayanan, national security adviser (NSA) of India at the time of the 26/11 attack, appointed PKH Tharakan - an Indian Police Service officer who had previously served in the RAW – in a bid to clean up the organisation after there was a lot of hue and cry when CIA mole Rabinder Singh was whisked away to the US vide Nepal.

It is sheer disappointing that no direct recruit from the RAW Administrative Service (RAS), despite some cracking records, was allowed to head the agency because of domination by the IPS. 

AS Dulat and KC Verma were two IB-imported heads of RAW who proved utter disasters. The IC-814 hijacking took place during Dulat's headship, resulting in the release of three dreaded Pakistan terrorists, of which Azhar Masood later masterminded the Parliament attack. He is still a major sponsorer of terror inside India.

KC Verma was appointed by Narayanan in February 2009, after the 26/11 attack, when Manmohan Singh was PM. Later, in a shameless administrative burglary, SK Tripathi succeeded him through his Congress connections.

There were strong apprehensions that a huge amount of money changed hands, which Tripathi got via a $1800-million scam while in-charge of the aviation research centre of RAW. He later joined the BJP and started lobbying for the post of governor, but has not succeed so far.

Modi government

Although Narendra Modi, after becoming Prime Minister in May 2014, did not go after Ahmed Patel-Bhupinder Singh Hooda-appointed then RAW head Alok Joshi, how this dubious man was made the chief of National Technical Research Organisation, carved out of the RAW, is most intriguing.

Rajinder Khanna, current RAW secretary, was selected by current NSA Ajit Doval in January 2015 and he proved his selection a good choice, being a known counter-terrorism expert and honest person.

If we don’t include the killing of 18 soldiers, which is now emerging as negligence from the Indian Army's side, his record in the last 20 months is satisfactory.

No major terrorist activity has taken place beyond the Jammu & Kashmir region. Many self-radicalised jihadis across the country have been neutralised. I have confirmed information that Pathankot and Gurdaspur attack inputs were sent in advance by the RAW to all security agencies but the warnings were never heeded.

Above all, the Indian Ocean has been fully sanitised except for the Maldives. In a nutshell, the current RAW is competent and, after a 48-year tumultuous journey, is on the right track. I assume it would prove a big asset for Modi's government.  

Last updated: April 10, 2017 | 20:39
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