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A true Indian patriot is now part of the ages

June 17, 2013 22:29 IST

'Post Kargil, the effete Indian response to the complex national security challenges was a matter of deep anguish and muted anger.'

'B Raman felt very strongly about the need to create a more informed national security community in India,' remembers C Uday Bhaskar.

B Raman, an internationally recognised expert on terrorism, who passed away on Sunday in Chennai after a long and stoic struggle with cancer (a malignancy that in a matter-of-fact manner he referred to as the last 'terrorist' he had to battle) will be remembered as a very distinctive Indian intelligence professional.

He maintained the highest standards of professional and personal integrity in the grey and opaque domain that he inhabited for almost 30 years.

A 1961 batch IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, he was hand-picked by the legendary R N Kao -- India's intelligence czar -- to join the Research and Analysis Wing in 1968. For the next 26 years, till his retirement in the mid 1994, Raman was the quintessential intelligence official -- unseen, yet effective and outspoken -- where required.

He retired as an additional secretary level officer and headed R&AW's counter-terrorism unit for the last phase of his professional career.

Post-retirement Raman became the public face of Indian intelligence and was a prolific commentator on a range of national security issues.

My own association with him began in the mid 1990s when I was at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He noticed a rather sharp and intemperate comment I had written for a national daily on 50 years of Indian Independence.

It was a verbose critique of the Nehru years and in the very precise and terse manner that he always spoke, Raman provided the lesser known fine-print of the domestic political context and regional security dynamic.

He subtly pointed out to me that my enthusiasm to highlight what I had described as Nehru's follies had got the better of me.

Raman was a man of few words. Our meetings were occasional and far between. But I read almost everything he wrote -- and this was the beginning of a long professional association where he gave me sage advice about the many booby-traps and minefields in the Raisina Hill labyrinth that could trip up an enthusiastic and naive security analyst.

The nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil war of 1999 led to more regular interactions and Raman (for the record, he was always Mr Raman and later Raman-garu, as I got to know him better) was a regular on the Track II circuit.

While a resident of Chennai, he often visited Delhi. The India International Centre was the preferred venue for such interaction. Raman and the late K Subrahmanyam had the highest regard for each other and was yet another factor in extending the bandwidth of our discussions. One learnt from both stalwarts by osmosis.

Raman's recall of the Indian security experience, both external and internal, was extraordinary. He could link disparate developments dating to the 1950s; the challenge posed by the erstwhile Left-wing cadres, the perfidy of the major powers including the USA and China, the turf battles among the intelligence agencies, political pusillanimity and more -- issues that he often wrote about in the national media.

All of this was later distilled in his book, The Kao-boys - Down Memory Lancer (2007), which provides a valuable account of the Indian external intelligence agency, R&AW in the run-up to the Bangladesh war and more.

In the last decade with the explosion of the audio-visual medium, cyber and social media outlets in India, Raman, who was always a prolific writer, blossomed as it were. He took to the new communication technology like a natural and his many wry and insightful comments were disseminated through various outlets.

Raman became a one-man cyber guru. In this regard, his contribution will remain distinctive. From the Web site that he maintained in a methodical manner to his Facebook and twitter comments and TV appearances, Raman was everywhere.

Post Kargil, the effete Indian response to the complex national security challenges was a matter of deep anguish and muted anger. Raman felt very strongly about the need to create a more informed national security community in India and bemoaned the fact that there was a dearth of such committed professionals.

Many of his writings and public appearances had that ring of deep concern at the sorry state of affairs. His own expertise in the intelligence domain made him more acutely aware of the many inadequacies in the system.

A pragmatic realist, he was always committed to what he perceived to be the national interest and advocated radical policy initiatives, but his advice often fell on deaf ears.

Accessible to one and all -- be it the media, the young researcher or the visiting foreign interlocutor -- Raman shared his knowledge and experiences in a generous manner.

However he did not suffer fools lightly and could be firm when required, though he was always correct and courteous in his austere manner.

Having personally benefited from his many insightful observations, one can assert that Raman was a long-distance mentor-cum-teacher to many of his well-wishers and the extended security community in India and beyond.

On terrorism-related issues and Pakistan, Raman's blog was often the first and last word on the subject.

One of Raman's younger colleagues at the Observer Research Foundation, Swati Parashar recalls of her mentor: 'The good thing about Raman Sir, contrary to popular view, is that he never actually imposed his views. With his junior colleagues and beginners like me, he had all the patience and always ensured that we expressed ourselves even if we disagreed with him. This was special, because in India, kow-towing to the bosses is common and contrary opinion is never tolerated by those in authority.'

Pakistan apart, China had become an area of special focus for Raman and the Chennai Centre for China Studies benefited from his many writings and oral contributions. One of Raman's last public articulations was a tweet about China where as @sorbonne75, he advised: 'Ind-Japan shld make Chinas seeming strengths into strategic vulnerabilities.'

Like many of his cyber contacts, I always looked forward to his regular mails and the last one (May 15) was about the troubled India-China relationship and the Chinese premier's visit to India. The comment was vintage Raman-esque. Cogent, numerically arranged and closing with a policy prescription that could have been put up to the Indian Cabinet.

The last paragraph noted: 'It would be in India's interest too to work for a border accord as early as possible.'

'At the same time, India should not accept the Chinese formulation that the absence of a border accord should not come in the way of the economic and other relations. This formulation has immensely benefited China.'

Farewell Raman-garu RIP. You will be missed in more ways than one.

Commodore Uday Bhaskar (retd) is a former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and the National Maritime Foundation.

C Uday Bhaskar