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A Peek Into The Life of RN Kao: The Man Behind India's Espionage Agency R&AW

In 1996 while India was celebrating 25 years of Bangladesh's independence, a Bangladeshi reporter walked up to a man seated at the end of the meeting hall and asked, "Sir, you should be at the centre stage.  1971 would not have been possible without you."  The man replied," No, I have not done anything. People seated at the podium deserve appreciation". Disturbed by being recognized, the man got up from his place and quietly left the hall. The name of this person was Rameshwar Nath Kao - the father of India's external intelligence agency R&AW (RAW).

Hailed as India's true spymaster, Rameshwar Nath Kao, led a highly secretive life and is known to have given just two interviews in his entire lifetime.

Kao was born on 10 May 1918 in Varanasi to a Kashmiri Hindu Pandit family. His uncle Pandit Trilokinath Kao raised him. He went on to pursue  M.A. in English Literature from the University of Allahabad.

Kao joined the Imperial Police Service in 1940 as an Assistant Superintendent of Police in Kanpur. He joined the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in1947. Kao formed an integral part of the then-PM Jawahar Lal Nehru's security ring.

He was also the first chief of the  Aviation Research Centre(ARC) and later went on to head R&AW from its founding in 1968-1977.

He is known to be the architect of Bangladesh liberation and played a pivotal role in the merger of Sikkim to India. His investigation in the crash of Air India aircraft Kashmiri Princess earned him a letter of recommendation from the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

During the 1960s, problems in East Pakistan stirred up. R&AW under Kao capitalized on the situation seeing the opportunity to break Pakistan and create Bangladesh. Arms and training were provided to Mukti Bahini during the initial stages of the war. Kao is also credited to have predicted that the merger of Sikkim to India must be effected before other competing forces like China barge in.

Around 1975 Kao disguised as a betel-nut exporter had warned the then Bangladesh's PM Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of a possible coup against him. He also listed the names of military officials conspiring against him.

But Rahman shirked him. A few weeks later, those very military officials assassinated Rahman and his 40 family members.

America's erstwhile President, George Bush, gifted an effigy of the American cowboy to Kao.

Kao helped to set up National Security Guard(NSG), a force that proved its mettle in dealing with hijacks and terrorism. 

Kao had taped his life and wanted it to release to the public after his demise.

R&AW's former Additional Director Jyoti Sinha recollects, "He never used to say any such thing that may hurt anyone. One of his phrases that I liked, Why to kill someone who opposes you with poison, why not kill with honey?". 

Kao was not only a spymaster but also a sculptor, as per a book. He trained two generations of R&AW's spies. He was known as Ramji Kao in his official circle.

Kao's rule was implicit, "No copies, no rough notes, no trail." Everything was to be typed based on memory. The status reports were delivered to the PM by Kao himself.

Former R&AW Chief Mr Vikram Sood mentioned how Mr Kao was very particular about weighing each word he wrote in official correspondence.

One of Kao's insistence in forming R&AW was that he would take people from all walks of life and did not allow the agency to become a typical centre police armed force. His team came to be known as kaoboys.

In 1977, Indira Gandhi's government toppled, Kao too retreated into the shadows. Many people believe that it was because Morarji Desai was suspicious of Kao's role during the Emergency. Desai even called for an inquiry against Kao.

Indira Gandhi was reinstated in power in 1980. Kao returned to work as her security adviser till her assassination in 1984.

Some of R&AW’s top agents include Mohanlal Bhaskar, Ravindra Kaushik, Kashmir Singh and Ajit Doval among others. Founded by Kao in 1968, R&AW is now among the top 10 intelligence agencies in the world.

According to author Nitin Gokhale, Kao transcribed his life in seven files. He kept those files in Nehru Memorial Library and Museum. He was directed to open those files progressively after his demise.

Four of the files of his life are now open for scholars to access. Three of his crucial files, The 1971 War, Sikkim's merger to India, and Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination, will not open until 2027.

The legendary spymaster left for heavenly abode on 20 January 2002 in Delhi. He is survived by his daughter Achala Kaul.


Inputs from:

BBC Hindi

Hindustan Times

The Print 

Nitin Gokhale's: RN Kao: Gentleman Spymaster

Photo Courtesy:Hindustan Times


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Tags: Indian Kaoboys Indira Gandhi RN Kao Bangladesh liberation Sikkim Merger R&AW


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