For someone who has been writing on intelligence and security matters since 1983 and has had close interactions with the operatives of IB (Intelligence Bureau) and R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing), hearing R.N. Kao's name in almost every conversation with them, and the fact that very little is known about the person who set up India's external intelligence agency has always intrigued him.
"So, when the organisation (R&AW) informally approached me to write a book on Kao, I jumped at the offer. After all, he was such a mystery man, with an obsession for privacy and secrecy." Of course, Gokhale, an author of six books on defense had a condition permission to meet people who had interacted with him, operated with him or worked under him, and be given some leads about where unclassified documents would be available.
The author accessed the four declassified transcriptions from the dictaphone recordings of Kao that have been kept at the Nehru Memorial Library, and it is from there that the first few chapters of the book including 'The Princess Investigation' emerge. To write the first full-fledged book on Kao, Gokhale made it a point to meet some of the people who were recruited by him. "Co-indecently, the person who actually operated on the ground in erstwhile East Pakistan from 1969-71, turned out to be the father of my former colleague from one of the newspapers I worked with," remembers Gokhale.
Stressing that the spymaster is still revered, even by young R&AW operatives, the author says he was also put in touch with Kao's daughter and son-in-law. "They are also very private people, but came forward considering the organisation was also informally involved."
Talk to Gokhale about the fact that R&AW has seldom been part of 'mainstream' (barring a few Hindi films made in the last decade) unlike its western counterparts like the CIA and Mossad, and the author feels that this fact works better for the organisation. "That way it manages to operate in a more subterranean manner. Also, this doesn't raise the expectations very high. Although, in the neighbourhood Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, 'R&AW' is a dreaded word. In this book, I have not concentrated on its operations...they have just come by the way. It is neither history, a thriller or a chronicle of the R&AW, but in fact a mixture of all three."
As the conversation touches upon the criticism of the agency during Kargil and the accolades it received post the Balakot strikes, Gokhale, who completed the book in 65 days days, insists that the intelligence business is all about winning some and losing some. "If you look at the CIA, where much declassification happens, only 30 out of 100 operations can be called successful. The latter have managed to overshadow the failed ones. Let us not forget that Balakot would not have been possible without the two R&AW sources inside the camp who not only gave the layout, but also passed on intelligence about the number of people staying there and their exact locations. The attack could therefore be pinpointed."
All set to write former (late) Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's biography, the author believes that despite all the technological advancement in modern-day intelligence gathering, human intelligence is indispensable. "Look at the Osama Bin Laden case. The Americans had all the technical resources, but it was ultimately a human courier that led them to him. It just cannot be done away with."
( With inputs from IANS )