Table of Contents

   A spy and a gentleman
   Doyen of Indian intelligence
   Czar of India's Counter
   Life and Times of R.N. Kao
   The Legend Called RN Kao
   RN Kao's World View
   RN Kao's Major Feats

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



The Legend Called RN Kao

By P.N. Raina

Pt. Rameshwar Nath Kao, India’s greatest name in intelligence arena belonged to the old tradition, where spymasters not only were superbly dedicated to their profession but also hated sensationalism. Kao never wrote about himself, gave no interviews, disliked being photographed or sharing secrets of shadowy roles that spying job entails. To reconstruct his role one has to rely on few snippets from newspapers.

Sh. R.N. Kao at the start of his career.

Sh. R.N. Kao at the start of his career.

Kao was decisive, often ruthless. Many of the stringent sleuthing practices imbibed by some top officials of RAW from their mentor have earned for them the epithet of ‘Kaoboys’ In 1982 Count Alexandre de Marenches, who headed the French External intelligence agency Service for External Documentation and Counter-Intelligence or SDECE as it was then known under President Valery Giscard d’ estiang, was asked by an interlocutor to name the five great intelligence chiefs of 1970s. Kao whom he knew well and admired, was one of the five named by him. Marenches praised the way Kao had built up RAW into a professional intelligence organisation and made it play within three years of its creation a formidable role in changing the face of South Asia in 1971. Link with Colonial Bureaucracy: Pt. RN Kao was the first Hindu official to join IB in British India and gained crucial insights into support structures of British Colonialism in Indian society. Having the privileged position of being a link between Colonial bureaucracy and post-1947 one he initiated processes that undermined the subversive potential of the pro-British support structures. In this context he was fully aware how the British had cultivated Muslim communalism to create cleavages in India. Kao also pooh-poohed the view that Indian left was an anti-imperial force. He opined that Left’s encouragement politics, would not allow Indian nation-state to stabilise. Kao also decried Left’s hypocrisy-be it fund-raising or morality. He attributed India’s lack of interest in ‘Look East Policy’ (ASEAN) to hangovers of Colonial past. Ghana: Kao proved his brilliance in Ghana, where he alongwith his deputy K. Sankaran Nair set up an intelligence agency at the request of legendary President Kwame NKrumah. Ghana neither had resources nor trained manpower. ‘Kashmir Princess’ case: Chinese Premier Chou Enlai was to travel to Bandung on a chartered Air India plane called ‘Kashmir Princess’. Under strange circumstances Chou cancelled his trip. Somewhere over Natuna islands a bomb exploded, leading to the air crash with no survivors. In view of the political sensitivity there were all sorts of speculation leading to conspiracy theories. Kao was deputed by Nehru to investigate the case. Those were the days of ‘ Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’. Despite all sorts of pressures from the Chinese side to involve Taiwanese government, Kao withstood pressures. This enhanced his prestige as a thorough professional. TECHINT Collection: In the wake of 1962 debacle where intelligence failed to predict Chinese game-plan in North- East and Ladakh, Nehru sought American help. Aviation Research Centre was the result. In 1963 Kao was put as its first Director. It was here he laid the foundations of TECHINT Collection in modern India. Kao had so impressed the officers at the CIA’s New Delhi station that one CIA official recalled later, “I had the opportunity to drive with him from Kathmandu back to India. At each bridge we crossed, he would recount its technical specifications in comparison to its ability to support the heaviest tank in the Chinese inventory.”


It is said that Kao tried to dissuade Mrs. Gandhi from sending the army into the Golden Temple Complex. He wanted the job to be done by local police. Other accounts suggest that Kao and GC Saxsena made efforts to secure British assistance to train a special unit using models of complex at Chakrata. Before Mrs. Gandhi ordered the Army to move into the Temple Complex, she had engaged Sikh leaders including some extremists through intermediaries. She wanted a ‘negotiated solution’. Negotiations in India were carried on by Rajiv Gandhi and two of his close associates. Kao carried on discussions abroad. Mrs. Gandhi, who had a strong sense of history, wanted these negotiations to be recorded in black and white so that future generations could know how desperately and in vain she tried to reach a political solution. China: Kao also attempted to push through Indo-Chinese talks by holding directed discussions with Qai Shi, coordinator of Chinese intelligence. Just before his departure he was asked by Madam Indira Gandhi what outcome he expected. As a true professional he said. “I expect very little, but that I saw no reason why we should leave the field to Pakistan unchallenged and not make even an effort”. Simla Talks: Kao Sahib had great regard for courage and political will displayed by Madam Gandhi. In his retirement years while talking about crossborder terrorism launched by Pakistan against India Kao would say that since Indira Gandhi no leader of stature had emerged in India who could take radical steps to stamp out terrorism and change geography of the region. However he would wonder how even a leader like Indira Gandhi could commit mistakes. It is said shortly before Simla talks the Prime Minister visited RAW Hqrs to request Kao to join talks. He refused saying his going won’t be proper. Kao stood silent for a moment. She said, “What are you looking at? I know it is said that after shaking hands with ZA Bhutto one has to check whether all the five fingers of the hand were intact’. Kao would wonder even then she committed a mistake. Her all Kashmiri advisors-PN Dhar, TN Kaul were against one sided concessions to Pakistan. Only the proleft PN Haksar wanted India to surrender its advantage.


Kao was against imposition of emergency in 1975. He had privately advised Madame Gandhi against it. When Mrs. Gandhi presented the plan at a meeting in which top bureaucrats were called, Director IB dissented and he was removed. Kao Sahib repeatedly asked to be relieved but was advised to continue. Incidently, General TN Raina, then Army Chief too did not like declaration of emergency. In 1977 after Congress defeat Janta Government eyed him with suspicion but could find nothing against him. Morarji Desai firmly believed that he had indulged in ‘dirty tricks’ on her behalf. In a reasonably courteous encounter with Desai, Kao denied all allegations of partisanship and wrong-doing point by point. But the old man was unconvinced. He ordered a rigorous, high level, detailed enquiry into Kao’s role. The spymaster’s role was found to be impeccable. Charan Singh, then Home Minister admitted that ‘Kao was a thorough professional to his finger-tips’. A man of great integrity, Kao, however, insisted on leaving the office before the end of his extended tenure and left office, in January 1977. Desai persisted in throttling India’s premier external intelligence agency by ordering massive cuts to the agency’s budget and operations. Kashmir: About the eruption of Islamist insurgency in Kashmir Kao would list three major factors. One, demise of Indira Gandhi. According to him it was a watershed in destabilization of Kashmir, after her there was no leader of her stature and capability. Secondly, India did not grasp monumental implications of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. It had no assessment about compulsions of Soviets nor it made any effort to study these. He observed that India did not realise then that similar dangers would confront India soon. Kao lamented that Indians believed they were immune to the dangers posed by intervention and collaboration of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and US agencies in the region. Third factor, according to Kao was the entry of Drug/ Hawala money and Arab petrodollars which fomented subversion and weakened national response to security threats. Kao had intimate knowledge of men and matters in Kashmir even in 1990s when he was no longer involved in country’s affairs. He was against giving any concessions to Muslims communalism, which he believed extended beyond separatist groups. He called Pandits as ‘salt of the earth’ and asked them not to feel demoralized over failures or slow pace of events.

Proud Kashmiri Pandit:

Kao Sahib was proud of his Kashmiri Pandit origins, not simply because of ethnic link but as heir to the great civilisation of Kashmir. He would always look for a good Brahimin who could perform rituals according to Kashmiri Karamkand. He scoffed at those who harangued that Kashmiri Pandit bureaucrats had been imposed from above. He would this thinking as foolish. Kashmiri Pandits manned senior positions in bureaucracy by virtue of sheer competence, Kao would say. In the wake of terrorism in 1990 unlike others Kao expressed his total solidarity with Displaced Pandit Community. It is said when things worsened in early 1990 he had visited Kashmir in his private capacity to see what could be done to create conditions for their continued stay of Pandits in Kashmir. Kao disliked those who projected negative image of the community. Kao did not see exodus of Pandits from Kashmir as an isolated event. He saw it as a link in the chain of demographic invasion India was facing. He wanted Pandits to fight back, even if it took a century and develop political consciousness about the struggle. In 1992 Panun Kashmir, the frontline organisation of Kashmiri Hindus had organised a meeting in New Delhi to seek the views of those members who had manned senior positions in the ruling heirarchy. This was attended among others by Messers SL Shakhdar, RN Kao, TN Koul, DN Munshi, Pyare Lal Handoo, a senior NC leader. When PL Handoo rose up to make an apologetic statement to counter ‘Homeland demand’ and said “we have to continue to suffer for India,” a young PK activist countered him, ‘We have already suffered. Now you should suffer’. As PL Handoo began to leave soon after making his speech, having no courtesy to listen to the views of respectable dignitaries, who had come to express solidarity with Displaced Kashmiris the PK activists did not allow him to leave and asked him to listen to their viewpoint as well. TN Koul, former Foreign Secretary, accepted that ‘concept of enclaves’ for Displaced Pandits in Valley was possible. It was Pt. RN Kao’s intervention that changed the whole atmosphere. He exhorted his colleagues to listen to younger people, who he said were speaking sense. He argued that without political consciousness there could be no struggle, and Displaced Pandits needed an anchor which will impart them political consciousness. He reminded the gathering that India was under a multi-pronged assault and ethnic-cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus was a component of the overall demographic assault.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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