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Can its new chief turn R&AW around?
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February 02, 2009
K C Verma, an officer of the 1971 batch of the Indian Police Service from the Jharkhand cadre who was on permanent deputation to the Intelligence Bureau, took charge of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, last Friday.

He succeeds Ashok Chaturvedi who had a two-year tenure with the designation of Secretary (R).

At the time of his selection as Secretary (R), Verma held double charge as Secretary (Security) in the Cabinet Secretariat and Internal Security Adviser to Home Minister P Chidambaram [Images].

As Secretary (Security), Verma supervised the work of the Special Protection Group, which is responsible for the security of the prime minister, past prime ministers and their families. He coordinated security arrangements for them in Delhi [Images] as well as during their travels.

As Internal Security Adviser, he was responsible for coordinating follow-up action, on the home minister's behalf, on all information having a bearing on likely terrorist attacks.

In his intervention in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Mumbai [Images] attacks, Chidambaram had stated that a deficiency he found after taking over as home minister was that the responsibility for follow-up action on intelligence reports was diffused. The Internal Security Adviser was expected to remove this deficiency. It is not known who will take Verma's job as Internal Security Adviser.

Verma, who had functioned as head of the Narcotics Control Bureau before being designated as Secretary (Security), was known in the IB for his amicable nature and his ability to get along with people in the Bureau as well as outside. He has a good reputation as a team player and as a man-manager. His lack of an inflated ego and his ability to get along with people with diverse professional backgrounds made him a good coordinator and that was why Chidambaram picked him as the Internal Security Adviser.

Verma carry the IB's professionalism to R&AW which has confronted a crisis of sorts for the last few years.

He takes over at a time when morale and staff discipline are low. It has been reported that ego clashes, vindictiveness, jealousies, provincial favouritism and inter-service rivalries have become the defining characteristics of the organisation.

A similar atmosphere had prevailed between 1991 and 1993. During that period, one saw the disturbing phenomenon of senior IPS officers of the rank of joint secretaries and above planting negative stories against each other in sections of the print media. The in-fighting in recent years saw some senior officers allegedly planting negative stories against their chief in a foreign journal.

Poor man management and the lack of an esprit-de-corps have been the Achilles Heel of R&AW. In 1980, this led to an embarrassing strike by junior officers of the organisation who gheroed an unpopular senior officer. This was the first and only instance of a strike in an intelligence agency since 1947.

Despite this, man management has not improved. The grievances of junior staff members in matters like promotions and foreign postings often remain unaddressed. The senior officers have different service backgrounds -- civilians, military officers, scientists, direct recruits to the Research & Analysis Service, deputations from the IPS, the Indian Adminstrative Service and other Class I services. The organisation has not been able to blend them into a harmonious whole.

The IB, which is more than a hundred years old, has built and maintained a culture of staff harmony and discipline, which would be the envy of any institution. This is partly because it is a homogenous organisation with its officers and junior staff consisting of either IPS officers or direct recruits. It is not a badly-mixed cocktail as R&AW has become.

Another reason is that the importance of good man management is constantly stressed upon IB officers. All officers, who headed the IB, set a good example of man management. Vindictiveness of the level seen in R&AW is unknown in the IB.

When then prime minister Indira Gandhi [Images] set up R&AW on September 21, 1968, by bifurcating the IB, she had felt that as an external intelligence agency, R&AW should recruit from a wider field instead of only from the IPS. She approved a proposal made by Rameshwar Nath Kao, R&AW's first chief, that it should have a Class I service of its own to be called the RAS with the same pay and allowances as other Class I services of the Government of India.

Kao's idea was that over a period of time the directly-recruited RAS officers would form the permanent core of the organisation, occupying about two-thirds of the total posts of officers. He wanted that the remaining one-third of the posts be filled by deputations from the IPS and other services, officers of the armed forces and specialists like scientists. A provision was made for the periodic absorption into the RAS of a select number of people on deputation, who were found to be very good or outstanding in the job.

It was a commendable idea, but its implementation was far from satisfactory. Moreover, as the officers directly recruited to the RAS in the early 1970s moved into senior ranks, friction developed among senior officers affecting internal harmony. After G S Bajpai retired as the chief in July 1991, the organisation did not have for some years an officer of stature as its head who could win the confidence of all the officers, irrespective of the services to which they belonged.

Staff harmony and morale improved under A S Dulat, an IPS officer who was inducted from the IB in 1999, to head the organisation. It remained satisfactory till 2007, when it allegedly started deteriorating again. It came under a cloud in 2004 following the defection to the United States of Major Rabinder Singh (retired), who was allegedly working as a mole of the Central Intelligence Agency for some years without being detected.

Concerns over loose supervision and a permissive atmosphere made the government decide once again to bring someone from outside to head R&AW in order to facilitate a thorough inquiry into the Rabinder Singh case.

Hormis P Tharakan, an IPS officer of the Kerala [Images] cadre who had served twice on deputation to R&AW before returning to Kerala to become the director general of police, was chosen to head the organisation and tighten up supervision and internal controls.

The induction of Verma, who has never served in R&AW before, reflects the government's anxiety to set right the lapses in the organisation. This will be one of his first tasks.

An equally important task will be to make himself acceptable to other R&AW officers, who are bound to feel aggrieved over the fact that someone has been inducted from outside overlooking their claims and performance. Individually, all senior officers of the organisation, who were in the zone of consideration, had a very good record, but they were allegedly unable to work as a team.

Establishing a culture of team work and an esprit-de-corps would need Verma's personal attention.

It is said that R&AW officers did not allow staff disharmony to affect their performance as professional intelligence officers. Due credit needs to be given to them for getting advance intelligence about many planned terrorist strikes, including the Mumbai attacks of 26/11. The Mumbai attacks were not a case of intelligence failure. It was a case of physical security failure and weak coastal surveillance.

If the officers can perform so well despite internal disharmony, one wonders what they can do if there is harmony.

It will be Verma's job to ensure that the staff works hand in hand in removing deficiencies in the organisation.

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