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The Legacy of DIBs

T.G. Sanjeevi Pillai

It would be of some interest to discuss the legacies of the six directors of the Intelligence Bureaus (DIBs) who occupied the high office before me. T.G. Sanjeevi was the first DIB after Independence. He was an upright person – stern, firm and incorruptible. He was also a rather vain person and could outdo the white sahebs in keeping a stiff upper lip. I believe he insisted on being received by the administrative officer of the IB every day on his arrival and being conducted to his room.

In his younger days in the undivided Madras Presidency, he was assistant superintendent of police in Bhadrachalam, a famous temple town. While attending to office under a banyan tree in the winter months, an orderly used to be on duty to chase away crows so that he would not be disturbed.

He fell in love with a married lady, whose husband held a somewhat junior post. Sanjeevi remained a bachelor, and many years later when the lady’s husband passed away, he married her and took over the care of the family, which included her son, who rose to become the chief executive of a public sector undertaking of the Government of India. Sanjeevi used to exhibit great regard and affection for his wife. She was somewhat imperious and easily alienated the wives of her husband’s junior colleagues.

As the first DIB, he was not only directly in charge of the Delhi Police but also chief of the Special Police Establishment, the parental body of the CBI. During the Delhi riots following Partition, Sanjeevi is said to have dealt with the law and order situation with a stern hand. As DIB, he made an official visit to the US and took his wife with him. There were some queries from the home ministry about this, and Sanjeevi felt humiliated. He sought reversion from the Centre to his parental cadre and returned as IGP of Madras in 1950.

The first inter-state police meet was held at Vellore in the winter of 1951, and I happened to be there for a training course. I was drafted to assist in organizing the prestigious sports meet since all the senior officers were present, and the event went on nearly for a week. I had several occasions to meet Sanjeevi and his wife during this week. I found him extremely courteous and with a sensitive heart behind his hard exterior. In later years, he and his wife live in splendid isolation with hardly an old friend to meet him.

B.N. Mullik

B.N. Mullik was one of the two deputy directors in the IB when Sanjeevi was the DIB. The other deputy director was M.K. Sinha. Both were from the Bihar cadre. M.K. Sinha’s father was the first Indian to hold the post of IGP and wrote an interesting memoir. Mullik became DIB at a very young age, and he remained in this post for nearly fourteen years. His books under the series titled My Years with Nehru throw considerable light on his character and personality.

He was totally devoted to his work. Except for five or six hours of sleep, he spent the rest of his day and night doing IB work. The Mulliks had no children, and Mrs Mullik died of cancer in 1962. Following her death, he was haunted by a feeling that he had not given due attention to her welfare and happiness. He would always keep a picture of her with him, and once during a tour, he was seen placing a bowl of milk in front of the photo. The Mulliks had adopted a relative’s daughter many years earlier. She later got married to H.A. Barari, an IPS officer who joined the IB and rose through the ranks to become DIB in 1984 and governor of Haryana in 1988.

Mullik was referred to as ‘God’ by the junior officers, and some had great regard and admiration for him. Many others hated him equally. There was, however, one exception to this rule in the person of T.R. Subedar, an IPS officer on deputation from the then Central Provinces, who was in charge of administration in the IB. He used to often refer to Mullik as ‘the man in the corner room’.

Mullik rarely smiled and seldom permitted arguments or disagreements with his views. He could be quite tough with those who fell out of favour. Slowly groupism emerged in the organization, with senior officers arranging themselves in two broad groups. However, the groupism was rather nebulous as no one would dare to even claim that such a thing existed, but one could sense it in the air. The birth of the Research and Analysis Wing in the mid-1960s owes its origin, to some extent, to this atmosphere of groupism and animus in the IB those days.

Mullik was probably the most extensively travelled DIB. He visited a large number of check posts along the Indo-Tibetan border. Mullik was, therefore, up-to-date and well informed on border affairs. But after the Indo-China war of 1962, his position in the IB became rather tenuous, as the agency was responsible for foreign intelligence gathering until the creation of R&AW. However, so long as Nehru was prime minister, he could not be touched.

Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the war, a scheme was prepared to educate and train the people in the border regions in self-defence in the event of external aggression in future. It was blessed by foreign experts and well-wishers, including Lord Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy and first governor-general, and J.K. Galbraith, an American economist and diplomat. Biju Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, was drafted to assist Mullik in this task. Both of them made a trip to the US and held discussions in this connection. Later, Mullik and Patnaik visited a number of border areas, including Sikkim in late 1963. After Nehru’s death, Mullik became the director general of the Security Directorate, which was outside the IB. It later bloated to gargantuan dimensions with more and more sub-wings.

After his final retirement, which he accepted with ill grace, Mullik turned to religion. He found in a Bengali guru a source of mental peace. Mullik, however, was not a man who would enter any field without trying to dominate it. He soon became his guru’s chief disciple and would fix up his programme and other arrangements whenever he visited Delhi or other places in the country. I met his guru a couple of times and found him to be a genial old man with locks of matted hair rolling over his head. He was in frail health. He could hardly walk and was sometimes carried by his disciples, most of whom were Bengalis and had great affection and regard for him.

Mullik had in fact found this guru a few years before his retirement. Some of the senior officers in the IB and the Security Directorate, which he headed after leaving the IB, had also become disciples. Whether they believed in the guru as much as Mullik did was open to question. This was amply illustrated by the case of a retired army officer who became a disciple at the instance of Mullik but later tried to sideline him and organize an important function in Delhi which was to be attended by several foreigners. I was then the DIB, and Mullik phoned me to find out whether the foreigners could not be prevented from entering the country. I expressed my inability to intervene in the matter as there was nothing objectionable found.

Mullik tried to enlist me as a disciple of his guru, but apart from being respectful to his guru as well as to Mullik, I evinced no interest in his guru’s preachings or publications. Mullik, however, would not give up. One Sunday, he asked me to come and meet his guru as there was a special discourse organized near Gole Market in central Delhi. I told him I would be busy at work till about lunch time and that I would come and meet his guru before going home.

When I arrived at the spot, the discourse had ended, and people had dispersed. The organizers were having a meal. Mullik and another Bengali gentleman then took me to the guru, who lay on a cot. Mullik spoke to him in Bengali and apparently told him I was keen to become his chela. The guru extended his hand while my head was more or less pushed down to it by Mullik and his friend. He uttered a mantra and pressed his thumb on my forehead and gave me a rosary. I felt extremely awkward and embarrassed.

After coming out of the room, Mullik’s friend gave me a torn piece of blanket, which was said to be specially blessed by the guru. I was asked to sit on it every morning and remember the guru and say whatever prayers occurred to my mind. They told me they would put me on to the guru’s teachings in due course. I was quite taken aback and was on the point of protesting at what they were trying to do to me. Out of sheer regard for Mullik, I did not say anything and left the place with the piece of blanket and rosary, which I quickly threw away.

A few days later, I told Mullik’s son-in-law, H.A. Barari, who was then a joint director in the IB, what had transpired and that it was wrong of Mullik and the others to try to force their belief on others. Barari was equally averse to what Mullik and his friends were doing and asked me to forget the entire thing like a bad dream.

Mullik had some land allotted by the Delhi Administration near the Sainik Farm area for building a Kali Bari temple. He also started a school with about thirty students drawn from neighbouring villages, and he insisted that Sanskrit should be taught as a compulsory subject. Later, he started a couple of Sanskrit schools, including one in Tamil Nadu which was being run by a retired IB officer. The school was almost a non-starter as there were only a few Brahmin boys, but whenever Mullik visited it, which was probably once a year, the retired official would spruce up the place and put a few boys on the premises for his satisfaction.

He would collect donations from well-to-do people to run the school and the temple. On a couple of occasions, some charity dance performances were organized. During the festival of Navratri, Mullik would fast rigorously and conduct the puja in his temple himself. On Ashtami, or the eighth day, some of his erstwhile officers in the old departments would attend the puja, and that would make him very happy.

Mullik’s life was a strange amalgam. In his days of power and glory, he was very stern and rode roughshod over his colleagues and subordinates. He was thorough and up-to-date and did not tolerate inefficiency anywhere. Those whom he considered shirkers were hounded out by various means, including consistent adverse remarks in the annual confidential reports. At the Friday meetings, which used to be a ritual and continue to date, when desk officers explained the highlights of events pertaining to their respective charge, Mullik would ask searching questions and judge the ability of the officers more or less on that basis. Careers were made and unmade in the Friday meetings presided over by Mullik.

It was difficult to get appointments from him even to discuss official matters, and requests for appointments were invariably granted after a couple of days. He would greet people walking past him down the South Block corridor where the IB office was with a faint nod of his head and nothing more. The transformation of such a man after his retirement into almost a sanyasi was interpreted by many people in different ways, but the most commonly held view was that Mullik was atoning for all that he did.

S.P. Verma

Mullik was succeeded by S.P. Verma of Bihar in 1965 and was selected by the advisers of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

S.P. Verma had earlier worked as central intelligence officer in Patna, a junior position in the IB, but reverted to Bihar Police to become IGP Bihar many years later. Verma was of the plodding kind, and being a transplant in a senior position at an advanced age, he could not really come to grips with the organization or the ministries concerned.

The IB’s responsibilities were increasing manifold, and new problems were cropping up everywhere. It used to be said that the golden age of the IB was prior to March 1959 when the Dalai Lama entered India, having fled from Tibet. Subsequent events led to the Sino-Indian war, crisis in the central cabinet, Nehru’s death, the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death, succession problems at the Centre leading to Mrs Gandhi becoming prime minister in 1966, the devaluation of the rupee that year, the consequent inflation, price rise and economic chaos, the estrangement between Mrs Gandhi and K. Kamaraj, the emergence of the kitchen cabinet in the prime minister’s house, and non-Congress governments coming to power in a number of states in the country.

Verma was the DIB during this crucial phase, but he was hardly the person who could handle all these challenging problems. He retired in 1967 and went back to Patna.

M.M.L. Hooja

Verma was succeeded by M.M.L. Hooja. Hooja had hoped to take over from Mullik himself, but Verma was brought instead and Hooja temporarily went over to the Security Directorate founded by Mullik. Hooja was DIB from January 1968 to mid1971, a period during which a crucial split in the Congress took place in 1969 in the aftermath of the presidential election that year.

Y.B. Chavan voted for Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in the parliamentary board meeting at Bangalore to decide the candidate, after promising Mrs Gandhi that he would vote for Jagjivan Ram. She stripped Morarji Desai, who had also voted for Reddy, of the finance portfolio, which led to his resignation. As for Chavan, she quietly divested him of the intelligence and investigation units like the IB and CBI and made them directly responsible to the prime minister. This was brought about with effect from 25 June 1970 on the advice of her powerful adviser,

P.N. Haksar, who was in turn assisted by a small group of officers of the IB and the Security Directorate who had developed direct access to the prime minister’s house.

This was the period when a need for a parallel intelligence organization, ostensibly for collecting external intelligence, particularly military intelligence on the Indo-Pak and Indo-Tibetan borders, was put forth. Mrs Gandhi realized that even though the intelligence organizations had been brought directly under the PM’s office, they had to be part of the home ministry and whoever was the home minister could not be totally deprived of certain basic elements of intelligence, which would trickle down to him in any case.

It was therefore decided to set up a parallel organization, though the emphasis was to be on external and military intelligence. However, it was very much involved in internal intelligence also. R&AW was set up in 1968, and Ram Nath Kao was chosen to head the organization.

Around this time, a report reached the prime minister that Hooja was not passing on all information to the prime minister and was keeping her in the dark on important developments while giving all the essential intelligence to Home Minister Chavan. The cabinet secretary was asked by the PM to conduct a discreet enquiry. The IB chief was fully exonerated, though the mischief had been done. Mrs Gandhi was just the person to believe rumours, particularly when they related to issues of loyalty and trust. Hooja was posted out to the Committee on Police Training, with Professor M.S. Gore of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, as chairman and Hooja as vice-chairman.

Atma Jayaram

Hooja’s successor in the IB was Atma Jayaram from the Andhra Pradesh cadre. He had been inducted into the IB almost simultaneously with R.N. Kao soon after Independence. Prior to his entry into the police service, Jayaram had studied at Cambridge University in the UK. Because of this, he was chosen for a foreign assignment in one of the few posts which the IB then had. Jayaram had two stints abroad, in Beijing and Cairo, and returned to the IB in 1967.

When R&AW was being formed, Jayaram was senior and had a superior claim to become the deputy to Kao, who, however, chose K. Sankaran Nair. Both Kao and Nair had served in Ghana as security advisers to the nation’s leader, Kwame Nkrumah. Jayaram was adjusted as IGP in Andhra Pradesh, and he left in early 1969. He returned as DIB in November 1971 and remained there till August 1975, when he retired.

It was during this period that R&AW became the superior intelligence organization in the country, eclipsing the IB even in its legitimate areas of functioning. R&AW set up its offices in particularly every state, something which an external intelligence agency does not do in any other country. The security liaison work which was being done for many years by the IB in collaboration with the internal intelligence organizations in the UK and US was also taken away from the IB. Jayaram did not raise any objections to this, even though some of the senior officers felt quite upset and outraged over the slow depletion of the IB’s responsibilities.

What was, however, most galling was the functioning of R&AW as a parallel IB. Unfortunately, it was Mrs Gandhi herself who was responsible for this as she used to ask both IB and R&AW for reports on men and matters, including reporting on Congress people. R&AW also carried out election analyses. Mrs Gandhi thought she should have assessments and reports from two organizations, that this was one way of balancing one against the other and in the process getting as much information as possible.

Jayaram’s tenure as DIB was a tensionless period, and he did not get excited or unduly upset even when serious problems cropped up. In fact, he was the only DIB who could leave the office by 5.30 p.m. and also not attend office on Sundays and second Saturdays. He did not expect any senior officer to stay late hours either. His equation with the prime minister and her secretariat had perceptibly slid down in sharp contrast to that of Kao. Top secret notes meant for the prime minister were invariably sent to P.N. Dhar by Jayaram, and for months the DIB neither asked to meet the prime minister nor was he sent for.

I told him once that he should try to meet the PM and tell her of some of the important happenings instead of merely communicating with her principal secretary, but he did not pay heed. He probably thought there was no use asking for trouble from higher quarters.

S.N. Mathur

Jayaram was succeeded by Shiv Narayan Mathur of the Punjab cadre. Mathur belonged to the 1948 batch, the first of the post-Independence era. From Punjab, he was earlier drafted as deputy director in charge of Jammu and Kashmir. He was in this post for about four years before he was promoted as joint director in the IB. He, however, later returned to Punjab as IGP. When the search for Jayaram’s successor was on, Om Mehta, who was the minister of state in charge of the department of personnel and occupied a powerful position at that time, suggested Mathur’s name.

Mathur was asked to take charge in the IB as an understudy for three months before he took over in August 1975. Mathur was a studious and hard-working man with immense patience. I was only one batch junior to him and was the senior-most officer in the IB. Right through the Emergency years, Mathur and I worked in close collaboration.

After Mrs Gandhi’s crushing defeat in 1977, when I was singled out and sent out of the IB, Mathur intervened and asked for me to be retained since I was the joint director in charge of elections, and elections in the states had been announced for June 1977. He probably tried to retain me but could not succeed. After I proceeded on leave, he came to my residence and expressed his regrets that he could not protect me.

He continued as DIB in the Janata regime, and this did not come as a surprise to many, as Mathur and Charan Singh’s son-in-law, S.P. Singh, who was an IPS officer who had earlier served in the IB, were close friends. Moreover, Nirmal Mukherjee, who was chief secretary of J&K when Mathur had been deputy director of the SIB there, had assumed charge as cabinet secretary during the Janata regime after having been shunted from the home ministry to tourism and civil aviation by Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency.

The Janata regime was smooth sailing for Mathur. Unfortunately for him, Nagarkar, a batchmate of mine who had been overlooked for promotion earlier, moved to my desk after I left the IB. Nagarkar had links with political bosses as he was a freedom fighter and Y.B. Chavan’s jailmate during the 1942 Quit India movement against the British. He had established a direct line of communication with the office of Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

As mentioned earlier in the book, he was the prime mover of the report that was leaked to Arun Shourie and published in the Indian Express. The report – about Mrs Gandhi’s ill-gotten wealth – was based mostly on hearsay and backed by very little hard evidence, but it was sent to Prime Minister Morarji Desai and Home Minister Charan Singh by Mathur with his signature. He also simultaneously wrote to C.V. Narasimhan, CBI director, for initiating action on the basis of the report.

After Mrs Gandhi returned to power, the document stood in Mathur’s way of continuing as DIB. He was reverted to Punjab as IGP. I was recalled to the IB and I took charge as DIB in 1980.


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