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Confessions of an Intelligence Mind
A review of Open Secrets: India's Intelligence Unveiled by Maloy Krishna Dhar (Manas); 2005; pp. 519.

Zail Singh was bugged, the Indian government smuggled arms inside the Golden Temple and videotapes of a Sangh Parivar meeting warned of the Babri Mosque demolition, former Indian Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) Joint Director Maloy Krishna Dhar reveals in Open Secrets.

The Indian Express, Jan. 23, 2005

Photo: M.K. Dhar, left, and Open Secrets

Certain truths are better protected when buried under permafrost.

That's what the author writes in his 519-page yet-to-be-released book on the functioning of the country's Intelligence Bureau (I.B.). And then Maloy Krishna Dhar, former Joint Director of the agency, goes on to do the exact opposite.

His book, titled Open Secrets (Manas, Rs. 795), can best be described as the stringing together of startling secrets and a rare narration of why the I.B. is called the government's dirty tricks department.

There are tales of skulduggery, of the I.B. working as a handmaiden to successive political regimes, of counter-intelligence operations ending in fiascos - controversial revelations on operations some of which Dhar himself calls 'immoral and illegal.'

Asked about the propriety of an I.B. officer revealing what are official secrets, Dhar told The Sunday Express today: 'I am prepared for any resultant action, even a case under the Official Secrets Act. People in the I.B. now may think I have revealed too much . . . But I feel the public needs to know how blatantly the I.B. has been used by political masters right from the time of Indira Gandhi.'

A sample of what Dhar has to offer, nine years after he retired:

  • As head of the I.B.'s Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (S.I.B.), Dhar was first assigned to rummage through old records and collect papers on Indira Gandhi and her family which the I.B. had prepared during the Janata Party regime.

  • He was then assigned to monitor the goings-on in the 'parallel P.M.O.,' which cronies of Sanjay Gandhi were running from 1 Akbar Road, and which was opposed to R.K. Dhawan.

  • After Sanjay Gandhi's death, Dhar was asked to mount surveillance on Maneka Gandhi and her activities, he calls it a 'detestable task.' He admits to having 'wired up' a few of Maneka's friends which produced 'tonnes of appalling information.' He says, along with another senior I.B. officer, he was 'steamrolled' into breaking into the offices of Surya magazine at night to steal the original copy of SHE the censored chapter of the autobiography of M.O. Mathai.

  • When Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, he worked on the 'Punjab peace policy' guided by Satish Sharma ('a big blunder'), Home Minister Buta Singh and police chief K.P.S. Gill. In 1988, Bhindranwale's nephew, Jasbir Singh Rode and three high priests of the Golden Temple were first released and then Dhar smuggled a cache of arms to Rode inside the Temple. The weapons were loaded in a special flight and carried to Rode's den hidden in fruit baskets to enable him to fight terrorists.

  • Another Punjab operation, partly botched up, was the induction of a group of 50 'recruits' and to arm them with Kalashnikov rifles to help Rode. But even as the modalities of shifting the weapons were being worked out, a D.I.G. of police was attacked inside the shrine by Babbar Khalsa militants. Dhar was given a 'safe passage' out of Punjab along with the arms. He says he was later confronted by Buta Singh as to how 69 'unlicenced and unauthorised' weapons were being supplied by the I.B.

  • As head of the I.B.'s technical wing, Dhar says, he handled some interesting 'coverages.' Like a February 1992 meeting of the B.J.P./R.S.S. attended by its top brass. 'The meeting proved beyond doubt that they had drawn up the blueprint for the Hindutva assault in the coming months and choreographed the dance of destruction at Ayodhya in December 1992.' He retrieved the tapes breaking into the venue after two days and adds that he had no doubt the 'chilling contents' were later shared with the prime minister and home minister.

  • He got another 'techInt (technical intelligence) operational coup' when he was asked to sweep then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's office with bug-detecting devices in January 1992. He stumbled against a forgotten micro-recording monitoring machine, implanted inside the phone of an aide to the P.M., planted by the I.B. during V.P. Singh's regime. 'The end products, I understand, were delivered to Rajiv Gandhi even when Chandrashekhar warmed the seat for the former.'

  • Dhar chronicles how bugging devices were planted inside Rashtrapati Bhavan when the prime minister and Zail Singh had developed irreparable hostility. The device mounted somewhere on top of the P.M.O. picked up telephone conversations from certain 'treated phones' inside Rashtrapati Bhavan. The recorded tapes were regularly made available to Rajiv Gandhi, which provided him with 'deep insight' into the machinations inside the walls of the Luyten's palace, he writes.

    In his three-decade-long career in the I.B., Dhar reveals he was variously described as a 'rogue officer' or a 'suspicious' character. And what is interesting is that as he cultivated politicians, terrorists and fixers alike. He says he was offered several bribes - from money to plum postings and post-retirement positions.

    His book also reveals the curious friendships he developed along the way, from K.M. Govindacharya (there are several references to the R.S.S. leader's relationship with Uma Bharti) to R.K. Dhawan (the two were obviously closely identified), even industrialists like Dhirubhai Ambani.

    The book also has an entire section on the mismatch of intelligence gathering by the I.B. and the country's external intelligence agency, R.A.W. For the first time also, it provides the I.B.'s viewpoint on handling the I.S.R.O. spy case, in which the agency had been much maligned.

    Dhar's final thesis in the epilogue of the book: 'I shall be happy if Open Secrets raises a national debate on the vital issue of making intelligence agencies accountable to the elected parliament under appropriate Acts. After 57 years of independence, a time has come to liberate the intelligence and investigation establishments from the stranglehold of petty and visionless politicians.'

  • At several points, Dhar writes on how he was ideologically inclined towards the B.J.P. and names K. Govindacharya and Murli Manohar Joshi as his special friends.

  • When the N.D.A. came to power he was approached to accept a position in the P.M.O. but declined the offer after two meetings with Bhure Lal. 'His idea of the job that waited me involved digging out skeletons of corruption from the cupboards of the former Indira Congress leaders, including Rajiv Gandhi. I could never bring myself to accept the position of a hatchet man.'

  • Videotaping of the February 1992 meeting of the B.J.P./ R.S.S. 'rattled my emotional attachment to the Hindutva protagonist organisations. The tapes disillusioned me. The contents proved beyond doubt that the high priests of hatred had helped the Sangh Parivar to adopt a strident Hindutva programme soon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.'

  • The recent 'Gujarat pogrom rattled my bones. I wish there were some mad people like me to gather audio and video evidence of the scheme of minority annihilation by Narendra Modi . . . Anyways, history has the bad habit of re-running like a stuck film spool.'