Saturday, April 27, 2013

LEH:THOSE MAGNIFICENT KAO-BOYS ON MULE-BACK--DOWN THE MEMORY LANE


 

B.RAMAN

In the external intelligence division of the Intelligence Bureau, headed by B.N.Mallick, DIB, and subsequently post-1968 in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), headed by R.N.Kao, Leh was a coveted posting for young officers.

2.Both Mallick as the DIB and Kao  as the head of the external intelligence division of the IB and then as the head of the R&AW took a lot of interest in the collection of human and technical intelligence from Tibet through young officers posted in Leh.

3.The IB and the R&AW had set up a chain of Forward Intelligence Posts (FIPs) to collect Tibetan intelligence and these were supervised by an officer of the rank of Assistant Director (Superintendent of Police) based in Leh. The logistic and medical cover for the FIPs and the IB/R&AW offices  in Leh was provided by the Army.

4. We had very close co-operation between the Army and the intelligence set-up. Except in Leh where the staff used to move around by jeep, in the interior areas for the collection of Tibetan intelligence the staff used to travel on mule-back.

5.Leh was considered a very difficult posting health-wise. Only officers medically cleared by the Wellington Hospital for travel or posting to Leh were sent there.

6.N.F Suntook, who was the head of Administration in the R&AW under Kao, was once medically cleared for going there on an inspection tour. He almost died there due to accumulation of water in the lungs and had to be airlifted in the nick of time to the Wellington Hospital.

7.Young officers wanting to specialise in Chinese intelligence opted for their initial posting in Leh. They were the blue-eyed boys of Mallick, Kao and A.K.Dave. Leh, Hong Kong to learn the Chinese language and Beijing---used to be the career path of the Chinese hands in our intelligence community.

8.Among the officers who distinguished themselves in Leh were K.C.Patnayak, a 1954 IPS officer from Orissa, the late R.Swaminathan, a 1954 IPS officer from Andhra Pradesh, N.Narasimhan, a 1957 IPS officer from Karnataka A.S.Syali, a 1958 IPS officer from Madhya Pradesh, and A.P.Verma, a 1959 IPS officer from Uttar Pradesh.

9. Of these,  Narasimhan and Syali subsequently rose to be the chief of the R&AW. Collection of trans-border HUMINT from China entailed a lot of imagination, innovation and risks. Since the borders were not demarcated, one did not know where the Indian territory ended and the Chinese territory began.

10.Indian and Chinese intelligence officers manning FIPs often kept intruding into each other’s territory while moving on mule-back for clandestine meetings with sources and for looking after the welfare of their officers. Life was hell and at the same time an adventure for junior officers manning the FIPs.

11. Indian officers had to take risks to get into Chinese-controlled territory to meet their sources without getting caught. If they got caught, there could have been a serious diplomatic incident.

12. How to take the correct amount of risks without being irresponsible and over-adventurous? That was the question constantly before the young officers posted in the Leh sector.

13. One of the most risk-taking and adventurous was A.P Verma, a lover of horses and mules who won the Tonk Cup for equitation in the Central Police Training College in Mount Abu. His adventurous forays into Chinese territory  on mule-back to meet his sources were legendary.

14. There was a remarkable empathy between him and his mules. They knew where he wanted to go and how to escape capture by the Chinese counter-intelligence. To make his mules gallop faster to escape capture by the Chinese, he used to put a stick into the ears of his mules and excite them. They would get excited and irritated, but always gallop to the nearest Indian army camp.

15. It used to be said in the IB that no young officer had forayed so deep into Chinese-controlled territory as Verma and come back alive. Once he went very deep into Chinese-controlled territory for a clandestine meeting with a source. To his surprise, he found that the Chinese had caught his source and were waiting to trap him.

16. He quickly reversed direction and started galloping towards an Indian Army camp with the Chinese chasing him. It must have been a sight for Gods to see----with Verma and the Chinese  galloping in the direction of Indian territory. The Chinese could not catch up with him. He managed to reach safe sanctuary in the Indian Army camp.

17. He sent a flash wireless message to the IB headquarters explaining what happened. Dave and his other supervisory officers were shocked by what they looked upon as his irresponsible action in intruding so deep into Chinese-controlled territory. They called for his explanation and recommended to Mallick that he should be withdrawn to headquarters and reverted back to UP.

18. Mallick was shocked by their recommendation. He called them to his office and expressed his utter amazement that instead of giving a pat on the back for this young and adventurous officer, they should seek to reprimand him for taking unwise risk and send him back to the state.

19.Mallick sent for Verma, congratulated him and recommended him for a gallantry medal. ( 27-4-13)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )

4 comments:

peter g. said...

Yes Sir,
Down memory lane - three decades and more ago. It brings back memories of times (years) spent on the Chinese borders.You have rightly mentioned - but sadly only about IPS officers.There were only a few IPS officers who ever visited the borders and their bravado in "crossing the borders" finds mention by you. A.P.Verma "legends " were just that , the legends getting more colorful with each telling. You have forgotten or perhaps do not know about all those junior level direct recruits both of the IB and RAW who actually manned those CPs and FIPs enduring unspeakable hardships day in and day out.In their early twenties and right out of their training centers. Compulsory two year postings. Do you know how many days it took for trekking to the post at DBO. Do you know how many times one had to cross the same Shyok river by foot in icy waters, to reach posts manned by the IB ? I bet you dont. Unspeakable hardships, yet it was like you have mentioned, "adventurous" too. These youngsters were the eyes and ears of the nation, there on the borders. Do you know how many months it took for letters (dak) to reach the posts? At some posts it was upto three months in winter. Air droppings were impossible during blizzards and snowstorms.Let me assure you,that to my knowledge , no IPS officer has ever visited these posts in the winter.I have nothing against them but it is rather sad that you have sort of glorified their occasional displays of "bravado". You should meet the youngsters of those days, now retired and and counting their days.
I always read your blogs but this time I am a bit upset with this blog.Almost always , your blogs are well researched but this one seems to have been written not with first hand knowledge but stuff gathered from drawing rooms tales.
I myself could tell you a dozen stories from personal knowledge, about half a dozen youngsters who carried out much more dangerous tasks and risked their lives in the line of duty. They and others like them - the forgotten men of a bygone era.Give them some credit .
Peter g.

P.V.Rajgopal said...

Dear Sir,

You speak of A P Verma. I think you have got the initials wrong. The person, according to what I heard, was M S Verma - Mahendra Singh Verma - a 1958 batch officer of MP Cadre

Yours,

Rajgopal

Patri Upendra said...

V Ramaswamy said...

Sir,
it was MSVerma,chubby&chirpy and fond of horse riding& good at it too. Also he was a health freak and believed in strenuous exercises even in rarefied atmosphere against medical opinion.
He paid an inspection visit to my post(Tshokshalu)in 1965 summer.We played volley ball for hours till we were burnt out but he would insist on one more game. we marveled at his vigour and energy. But when I reached Leh in Feb 1966 on my way home on leave he wasn't there as he had left ITBF declared unfit for high altitude and repatriated to parent cadre.A decade or so later I learnt that he was DIG ITBP in UP hills.
its also true that no HQ official (ACIO1/DCIO let alone IPS) would set out in winter for fear of not being able to get back should hvy snow fall occur making the pass non-negotiable.its nobody's fault and so all movements would be done with by NOV and start by early May.
Also no prior medical exam but DIR was in force post 1962 and no one could even feign major illness and be disqualified. In fact even the trg period was shortened for a couple of batches to hasten the posting process.
Regards,
V Ramaswamy (Retd AD/IB)